Former head of the CIA General David Patreaus is but the latest public figure to have been discovered to have had an extra marital affair. He joins the ranks of a long list of politicians in the U. S. who have done so, e.g., Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Clinton, John Kennedy, to name but a few of the most notable. When we add the list of celebrities to the list of politicians, the numbers are staggering. Public figures involved in extra marital affairs is not a new phenomenon; sex “scandals” extends back throughout history. Because of the expansion of the media over the century we are just becoming more aware of the frequency with which infidelity occurs in our society.

An early episode of the TV series Scandals has the legal team defending a Washington, DC madam. As part of her defense they invited a group of her clients for a briefing; the room was filled with the Washington power brokers ranging from justices to congressional leaders. It seemed that every man in Washington had had a fling with one of the madam’s girls.

Are all of these people, mostly men, simply people without integrity? Are they all rotten human beings who should be condemned? Or are they honorable people who were seeking a connection with someone in order to fill some need? Is sexual infidelity in a different category than other forms of behavior that we consider immoral or illegal? Can a person be an ethical or moral person and still engage in an infidelity? If a person betrays a vow of monogamy is that an indication that they will betray other agreements? Should politicians be held to a higher sexual standard than other people? Should we in the U. S. change our moral code to be more like those in other countries where sexual improprieties are simply accepted as part of being human and part of a person’s private life? Is poor judgement in the execution of an extramarital affair an indication of poor judgement as a character flaw?

These are some of the questions that have been running through my mind lately. I don’t have answers, just lots of questions. What follows are some of my thoughts.

We know that men are hard-wired to pursue potential mates. It is part of their genetic code, similar to other mammals; the drive is fundamental to propagating the species. Social mores have developed over the years to curtail indiscriminate fornication. Societies have developed codes that dictate when a couple is married they are to remain monogamous. But monogamy is not universal. Some cultures and some couples have elected to have multiple sex partners outside of marriage, i.e., the open marriage. Statistics suggest that most couples (over 60% by some estimates) will experience an infidelity during the course of their marriage and in some cultures it is the norm. And some couples have an implicit or explicit “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with regard to extramarital affairs.

Some societies are polygamous, permitting more than one spouse. These variations indicate that merely having morals or mores, social contracts, or other such limitation on sexual activity does not proscribe desire; they only proscribe certain behaviors. The drive to procreate has evolved to the point of having a sexual drive for its own sake; that is, for the shear enjoyment of it.  And such behavior is not limited to men. As women become more self-reliant, powerful, and independent, they too tend to move away from the protection of men within the confines of marriage and have sought multiple partners outside of marriage. We see an increase in the number of married women seeking extramarital affairs.  There are even websites where people who wish to have affairs can hookup for a tryst.

So what constitutes betrayal? Or should breaking a vow of monogamy be considered a betrayal? When other agreements or contracts are broken they are not called “betrayal.” Violating the marital vows is emotionally loaded. People feel emotionally and personally violated rather it merely being a broken contract. The question is whether it should be treated as something more than a breech of contract. Perhaps if it weren’t considered such an egregious act, we would be better off.

Should we judge our politicians and other people in the public arena as fatally flawed because they committed a marital infidelity? Perhaps we have to segregate marriage infidelity from other lapses in judgement. If someone lies once does that make him or her a liar? Similarly, if someone has an affair does that make that person a philanderer?  How many indiscretions does it take before we say that it is a fundamental part of a person’s character?

It seems to me that marriage and infidelity are a very private matter between spouses. It is none of our business how people, whether public figures or anyone else, deal with their marriages and their infidelities.  It does not necessarily reflect on one’s fundamental character. No one knows what actually goes on behind the scenes in someone else’s marriage. We don’t know whether the couple was happy, intimate, or merely holding on to preserve the marriage.

As I have suggested, perhaps marital infidelities are in a special class of their own and should not be part of public discourse. If a politician should disclose governmental classified information to a lover, it should be treated as a breach of security whether or not the person was having a sexual liaison with the other party. It is not the affair that is the problem, but the breach of confidentiality.

Dr. Offer Zur puts it this way: “Western culture gives lip service to fidelity, but actually supports infidelity through its obsession with sexuality in the media and role modeling by celebrities. The Internet culture openly supports and enables affairs.  Finding one’s first love from high school on Facebook has resulted in many affairs and divorces.  Hugely popular Web sites  …openl(y) facilitate(s) infidelity and married dating.”

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[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica – Los Angeles. The profits from his latest book, LIVING LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT along with his other five books, are being donated to charity through the website Book Royalties for Charity and can be purchased through Amazon.com. Please become a fan on his Facebook Fan Page by indicating “like” on the page by clicking here. You can also find more tools to help you experience a more fulfilling life by clicking here to visit his website.]