Our Fascination with Extramarital Affairs
by Peggy Vaughan

Be honest. What generates more attention, more press, more outright fascination than stories about sex? Especially extramarital sex—and especially when it involves a prominent person who has achieved some level of respect in society. The coverage of some of the more publicized stories involving Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Bill Clinton, etc., are evidence of how we, the public, demonstrate our fascination with the subject.

However, as a society we are not responsible in the way we deal with affairs—or with any sexual issues, for that matter. For instance, we give lip service to monogamy while participating in the kinds of behaviors that actually contribute to affairs: our general obsession with sex as reflected in fashion, entertainment, and advertising; our fascination, titillation, and glorification of affairs; and our conditioning to be deceptive about sex.

So all of us are responsible for creating a fertile environment for affairs while condemning those who have affairs as if they're acting only out of some personal weakness, unaffected by the society in which they live. The consensus among sex researchers is that affairs occur in a large percentage of marriages and happen to all kinds of people in all walks of life, not just "bad" people. No one is immune from having affairs disrupt their lives or the lives of those they care about.

This perspective is not offered as support for affairs or as an excuse for those who engage in affairs. (I would be the last to do that because I experienced the personal devastation as a woman whose own husband had a series of affairs earlier in our marriage.) But after writing, speaking, and teaching about this subject for the last 30 years, I see the necessity for ALSO dealing with affairs as a "societal issue," not just a "personal one."

Instead of just being fascinated by publicized stories of affairs, we need to confront our hypocritical attitudes and accept responsibility for our joint failure to deal honestly and effectively with sexual issues. We need to rethink our basic assumptions about extramarital affairs: who has affairs and why. We need more information, understanding, and perspective—not about the private lives of prominent people, but about ourselves and our society.

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