Sex, Lies and Public Surveys

Article excerpt

The American Airlines magazine this month has a long and titillating article about marital infidelity, perhaps to abet the fantasy life of the weary business traveler.

Some 37 percent of men in America and 25 percent of the women have had affairs, the article reports. Infidelity has become commonplace. Everyone is doing it or is likely to do it. Even E-Mail is used to initiate and carry on love affairs.

The author cites no source for the data. Perhaps he felt there was no need to. Everyone knows there is a lot of infidelity, like the flu, going around. All one needs to do is read the women's magazines to realize that.

Yet, in fact, the careful surveys (concerned with AIDS) that have been carried out in many different countries in the last several years show exactly the opposite.

Most recently a British survey of almost 19,000 respondents who answered "secret ballot" (sealed envelope) questions revealed that only 5 percent of the male respondents had more than one sexual partner during the last year and, only 2 percent of the women.

When I reported similar findings several years ago in my book "Faithful Attraction" (Tor Books), I was ridiculed by clinicians and "sexologists," and there were dark murmurs about the Catholic Church trying to control sexual behavior again (though the data were collected by Gallup and the National Opinion Research Center).

Since then, studies in Britain, France, Denmark and Ireland have produced exactly the same results.

When one changes focus from monogamy during the past year to fidelity over the course of a marriage, the rate of infidelity goes to 15 percent - 10 percent for women, 20 percent for men - less than half of the rates about which the American Airlines magazine author writes so trippingly on his word processor. The rates are the same in all the countries studied.

The respondents are lying, I am told. Perhaps they are. Perhaps there is some exaggeration. …