Thou Shalt Not Say “Adultery”

Journalist Pamela Druckerman didn't think it would be hard to discuss sex issues with Alain Giami of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research.

After all, he was one of the top sex researchers in a nation known for its freewheeling, laissez faire attitudes about matters of the heart. However, Giami silenced her when she used a dangerous word.

"What do you call 'infidelity'? I don't know what 'infidelity' is," he said, in what the former Wall Street Journal correspondent later described as a "rant."

"I don't share this view of things, so I would not use this word," he added, and then delivered the coup de grace. "It implies religious values."

Thank goodness Druckerman didn't say "adultery." For most researchers, this term has become a judgmental curse that cannot be used without implying the existence of the words "Thou shalt not commit." This issue came up over and over as she traveled the world doing interviews for her book, Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee.

"If I asked someone, 'Have you ever committed adultery?', it was like God entered the room at that moment," said Druckerman, reached at her home in Paris. "That really is the religious word, 'adultery.' I had to start saying 'infidelity' or use a more careful combination of words."

While she didn't set out to write a book about sex and religion, Druckerman found that in large parts of the world — from Bible Belt cities to Orthodox Jewish enclaves, from Islamic nations to post-Soviet Russia — it's hard to talk about infidelity without talking about sin, guilt, confession, healing and a flock of other religious topics.

However, she also reached a conclusion that many clergy will find disturbing. When push comes to shove, cheaters are going to do what they're going to do — whether God is watching or not.

What does faith have to do with it? Not much. That's the bad news. The good news is that there is evidence that adultery is nowhere near as common as most religious people think it is.

Take, for example, the numbers that many consider "gospel" on this issue — the claims by sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in the mid-20th Century that half of American men and a quarter of women have cheated on their spouses.

While some writers keep using these statistics, Druckerman said they are "extremely problematic."

 Recent studies offer a vivid contrast. In the early 1990s, she noted, 21 percent of American men and 10 percent of women said they had cheated while married. In 2004, 21 percent of men and 12 percent of women said they had strayed at least once.

Meanwhile, 3.8 percent of married French men and 2 percent of married French women say they've had an affair during the past year — in one of the world's most secular nations. And in highly religious America? The parallel figures are 3.9 percent of the married men and 3.1 percent of the women.

While Americans remain obsessed with adultery, this now seems to be rooted in this culture's commitment to an "ubermonogamy" built on the all-powerful doctrines of modern romance, argued Druckerman. Lacking shared religious convictions — while living in the era of no-fault divorce — millions of Americans have decided that having a happy, fulfilling, faithful marriage is an entitlement, a kind of sacrament in and of itself.

If a marriage crashes, both religious and non-religious Americans usually place their faith in another substitute for the old structures of faith and family. They turn to professional counselors linked to what Druckerman calls the "marriage industrial complex," where, for a price, repentance and restoration can take place in public or in private. Ask Bill Clinton about that.

All of this represents the reality of America's "sexual culture," which, while it may have Puritanism in its DNA, has also been shaped by the modern sexual revolution.

"Even when I talked to religious people about adultery, they weren't really worried about God, about God striking them down for their sins," concluded Druckerman. "Americans just don't think that way now. Even the religious people were more worried about what their families, or perhaps the people in their religious communities, would think of them. …

"When it comes to matters of infidelity, Christian Americans act more like Americans than they do like Christians."

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  • Guest

    Very true!

  • Guest

    <>"When it comes to matters of infidelity, Christian Americans act more like Americans than they do like Christians."</>


    I think that is true with all the commandments, not just adultery.

    If Christians would just be CHRISTIAN…we wouldn't have abortion on demand for one thing.



  • Guest

    Behold the heresy of Modernism, which says that when you leave the sanctuary, you leave God, and don't have to pay Him any mind until you return.

    Is it any wonder so many good Popes have railed against Modernism so much? 

  • Guest

    Because I live in the Bible Belt, you'd think "adultery" would be a foreign word to me.  Not so!

    A former friend of our family who is Catholic, a weekly communicant, a committed member of the Sat Vigil guitar choir (that says it all), a prominent banker in this city, the father of two (family size limited by the pill), and the husband to a Catholic woman for 25 years now bears the title Adulterer.  Does he care?  I think not, for he married his "Trixie" within 6 months of the divorce.  His 22 year old son won't associate with him.  HIs 23 year old daughter "doesn't want to be judgmental".  His disposable "starter wife" is trying to figure out how to attend mass alone since attending mass as a couple was the most meaningful part of her life (her  thoughts).

    I have seen this happen many times in this town (half the time the adulterer is the wife): doctors, teacher of the year, bankers, lawyers.  And ALL church goers of various denominations who still attend their church while holding their chin high.  And …………shhhh!  The rest of us have to embrace the cuckhold and welcome the new couple into our circle.  Disgusting! 

    Why would a person who is willing to throw away his family who he can see embrace a god who he can't see?


  • Guest

    "Southern man better keep your head; don't forget what the gooood book said". If you take the "good book" literally then only those who covet the neighbor's wives are indicted. The wives coveting other husbands get a pass.

    Let's not be too judgmental elkabrikir, families are fluid. (Ahm)

    I love this statement: "a committed member of the Sat. Vigil guitar choir (that says it all)" I will pay you royalties for its usage because I will plagiarize it. When I do a Hail Mary will follow on your behalf. Having Analiese has only sharpened your wit. 

    Did you catch the spectacular lunar eclipse about 12 hrs. ago? It was a clear and quiet night up here in the choker belt. I stood outside in the cold hoping for the perfect penumbra to be in place within 5 min. and it took all of a half hr. So it is and will be with our perfecting. I gotta work on my patience.

  • Guest

    elkabrikir, your message reminded me of a similar situation in my own parish a few years ago.  A fellow parishioner (former priest, left, married, widower) took up with a divorced mother of four very publicly, and got married in our church with a lavish  nuptial Mass.  The "bride" wore white, and was walked down the aisle by her 12-yr-old son, followed by an entourage of bridesmaids, I forget how many.    I spoke out against this relationship and was told to "mind my own business'.  The man and his late wife had been members of our choir, so when he married again, the choir sang at the wedding.  He has continued to be quite visibly involved in parish life as a lector.  However, his foster son has moved out since (his own words) "he couldn't take the cr*p any more" at home.  According to the son, "they're happy, so that's what matters to them".  More and more, I'm beginning to realize how pride is the fundamental sin:  I want what I want now,  and to hell (literally) with the consequences.  We set ourselves up as God, so we figure we can do anything we like, and not suffer for it.    You're right, elkabrikir, it is disgusting, and I almost left the Church because of garbage like this. 

  • Guest

    We have entered a time when the lines separating right & wrong have been blurred at best or are non-existant at the worst.  Part of this is the result of judgmental as being viewed as a negative behavior.

    Humans are sinners, that is why God sent his only begotten Son to earth to save us from ourselves.  People are not perfect, if we were, we wouldn't need God or Jesus, because we would be like them, perfect. People have always sinned and committed crimes, but they knew it was wrong and everyone else knew it was wrong and everyone else was not afraid to pronounce it as being wrong.

    Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone".   There is a vast difference between being judgmental and stoning a person; a difference that secularists do not understand.

    Just because we can do a something, doesn't mean we should do it. That line of reasoning belongs to the 'terrible two-year olds'.  No self restraint.

  • Guest

    We're in an age now where sinning sells. It gets interviews, notoriety and money. The media drives our morality or more accurately drives by our morality as they drive by substantive truth. As today's article on Castro states, they're either useful idiots or just plain idiots.

    The point being that the way sin is presented can make us accept or reject it. For the most part sin and specifically adultery is sold as a weakness that needs sympathy, compassion, understanding, blah, blah, blah! Anyone suggesting condemnation, reparation and reconciliation will automatically get handed the stone with the attached scriptural remark.

    It is just pride in a fuzzy blanket that dares us to pass judgment lest we be judged. It's the philosophy of atheist psychologists that has put on the cloak of Christianity and is entrenched in most dioceses.

    'How's this going to look?' and 'what are people going to think?' used to keep a lot of this out of our face. Not anymore, now we're just unabashed, flamboyant sinners and darn proud of it.

  • Guest

    I paused from scraping ancient wall paper to gaze at the lunar eclipse.


    I find myself so distracted and scattered that about the only times I feel united to God is when I gaze upon my baby's face while she sleeps or when the splendors of nature, such as the eclipse, manifest themselves.  It is at those moments that God infuses his life into me and I know he is Emanuel.

    "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth…when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"  Job


    Here's some humor regarding adultery (so stop reading if you want serious discourse).  Couples should have HUGE families in order to prevent adultery.  First, you're too exhausted for any type of extracurricular activity.  Second, I've told my husband, "Make sure she likes kids, because you're taking all 11 with you on your honeymoon and into your love nest!"

    Now find the truth in the laugh. 

  • Guest

    chloesmom~Thankfully, you didn't leave the church. Just because bad things happen doesn't mean the church itself is bad! (which you obviously decided). Hopefully,priests and people "in charge" will wake up can see that we really need to adhere to our Catholic principles in all things. In the meantime, we must stay and fight for what's right! Kind of like being an American-when we say the pledge of allegiance, we are doing so because if the ideals stated in the Bill of Rights, not to the officials in charge. Imagine where would would be (literally) if we left the country when we disagreed with the people who were running it!

    How, though, is a widower marrying a divorced woman (perhaps she had an annulment?) the same as the situation elkabrikir described? Though, admittedly, the pomp and circumstance seems to be a bit much for their state in life…

  • Guest

    Love the sinner, hate the sin. How difficult that sometimes is! but I think that judging others doesn't really help. Them or us. 

    I've seen similar situations very near. I feel pity and sad for those people, who make the wrong choice in their lives and cause confusion and anger in their loved ones -children, especially.

    But I'll always pray for them, and hope in my heart that they will convert -and at the same time, remember, that we all need a conversion of heart every day!

    peace to everybody! 

  • Guest

    Plisto, I know it is your good heart that doesn't want to sit in judgment of other sinners when you yourself are a sinner too.

    However, that type of argument is a false one which sets up the situation described in the essay above.  If I say it's cold and gloomy outside today, which it is by the way, I'm only evaluating the weather and reporting.

    When  a married man has an affair, divorces his wife, and remarries, that is called, objectively speaking, adultery in many cultures.  It causes chaos in the entire social fabric but most especially the direct family members involved.  Even middle schoolers know that "cheating" on their "girlfriend" is a no-no.  And repeated cheaters gain a bad reputation and are stigmatized.  After all, who wants to be a friend with a known liar and cheat in the most intimate of relationships?

    Calling somebody an adulterer is a matter of fact, not a judgment call.

    The adulterer must face the consequences of his behavior whether he is labeled "adulterer" or "swinger" or "Don Juan" just like my "tootsies" will  if I go outside without shoes today.