Is fidelity a myth?

We might easily draw that conclusion if our only sources of information are books, television and movies. In these worlds, married people have affairs, and single people move from partner to partner with little commitment or consequence.

If you are an American adult, according to these sources, you will likely have multiple sexual partners.

Sadly, these media probably both reflect and influence culture. Public figures add their own strokes to this disturbing picture.

News stories regularly involve people involved in adulterous affairs. A professional basketball player is accused of rape; he says the sex was consensual. A California fertilizer salesman is accused of murdering his wife and unborn son; his former mistress is a key witness for the prosecution in his trial. A doctor and member of a prominent political family is again accused of rape; he calls the allegations “outrageous, untrue and without merit.”

When a television journalist asked a former U.S. president why he had had an affair, he replied, “Because I could.”

It’s difficult to know how widespread marital infidelity is. Most people who are unfaithful to their spouses try to hide that fact, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to be honest in surveys intended to extract that kind of information. For some, secrecy adds to the excitement of the relationship.

Though 90 percent of all people polled say that extramarital sex is wrong, surveys indicate that at least half of all marriages in the U.S. have been affected by some kind of infidelity.

The Internet now provides another way for people to cheat on their spouses. Whether these relationships remain strictly online or develop into something more, most experts agree that they are usually intense and cause harm to a marriage. Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth and consultant with America Online for infidelity issues, predicts that the Internet will become “a source of affairs” in the future. Welcome to the future.

People say they have affairs to meet various social and psychological needs, with self-esteem issues often being at the top of the list. Women, psychologists say, have affairs in order to be loved, have a friend and feel needed. Men do so for sexual fulfillment, friendship and fun.

Many people entering into an affair use the rationale that it will help their marriage. “If my own needs are met,” they argue, “my marriage will be more successful.” Long-term statistics reveal huge holes in this reasoning. Affairs do nothing to stabilize a marriage. At the very least, they damage and upset it; many times, they destroy it.

Those who divorce rarely marry the person with whom they have had an affair. Of those who do marry, 75 percent divorce.

While all of this may be intriguing, does it really touch the lives of God’s people?

You bet it does. Jesus knew fidelity would be a challenge even for his followers. He didn’t just hold up the standard God first established, he raised it. Adultery is more than an act, Jesus said. It is an intention. That extends adultery’s bounds to any form of improper intimacy.

Our culture tells us one thing when it comes to fidelity. Our God expects another.

Living counter-culturally makes no sense for people who reflect culture. It ought to make perfect sense for those who want to change it.

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

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