Fidelity as a moral achievement
I t is a curious fact that while attitudes towards pre-marital sex and divorce have become far more liberal over the past fifty years or so, attitudes towards extra-marital sex have, if anything, hardened. While most people now accept that marriage will not be the only sexual relationship they have in their lives, and even that the marital relationship itself may not last for ever, around 90% still appear to believe that marriage, at least while it lasts, should be sexually exclusive. One may have more than one partner, but not more than one at a time. Strictures against infidelity may therefore be considered as the last bastion of the monogamous ideal.
Yet it is an even more curious fact that these attitudes are not at all matched by behaviour. The taboo against infidelity is one more honoured in the breach than the observance. It is, of course, notoriously difficult to acquire reliable statistics on a matter of this sort, not least when it is still the subject of considerable moral disapproval. Nevertheless, research evidence indicates that a reasonable, and probably conservative, guess would be that some infidelity takes place in around half of all married couples ( Lawson, 1988). This is certainly the case