“The aura of the theocratic death penalty for adultery still clings to America, even outside New England, and multiple divorces, which looks to the European like serial polygamy, is the moral solution to the problem of the itch.”—Anthony Burgess

That adultery is a sin often comes as a surprise to many Christians who although carrying the title know little about the Bible or its teachings on the subject. A survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago showed that 90% of the men and 94% of the women surveyed felt that extramarital sex was wrong. However, out of that same group 25%-37% of the men and 17% of the women had been unfaithful.[1] Obviously, there is a double standard in place or—blinders. To add more fuel to the morality fire an Associated Press survey showed that 22% of married men and 14% of married women have strayed at least once during their marriage. The poll also showed there is no appreciable difference in infidelity rates between women or men. Still, 90% of Americans believe that adultery is morally wrong.

Yet, the subject of adultery barely crosses the lips of the clergy who now ignore adult behavior of this type and maybe with good reason. A survey of Southern Baptist pastors by the Journal of Pastoral Care said that 14% of the pastors surveyed admitted to engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior. Nearly 50%-70% of the same pastors said they had counseled at least one woman who had intercourse with another minister.[2],[3] According to Newsweek Magazine, "Various surveys suggest that as many as 30% of male Protestant ministers have had sexual relationships with women other than their wives."

A survey of nearly 1,000 Protestant clergy by Leadership magazine found that 12% admitted to sexual intercourse outside marriage. Seventeen percent of the affairs occurred with people they were counseling, and 52% involved members, ministers or other leaders of their own congregation. An additional 18% disclosed that they had kissed, fondled or masturbated with someone other than their spouse. When asked what consequences they had suffered nearly a third reported no adverse outcomes.[4]

Three Protestant churches recently addressed issues involving sexual standards for their clergy. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church debated an amendment to its constitution, which required all church officials to be faithful in marriage and chaste if single, but so many congregations threatened to ignore the decree that delegates voted to drop the chastity requirement.[5] Recent studies reveal that 45-55% of married women and 50-60% of married men engage in extramarital sex at some time or another during their relationship.[6]

"In all walks of life, charismatic figures exude a powerful attraction to the opposite sex. Charismatic clergy have the added aura of representing God or channeling the Holy Spirit. That is why Billy Graham, for example, decided early in his ministry never to be alone with a woman other than his wife. Few others are so meticulous. A generation ago, philandering clergy usually lost their jobs. That still happens. In an age when tolerance for adultery seeps into politics and race relations, denominations are hesitant to set too high a standard for their own. What some Protestant denominations believe is that sexual behavior is either too personal to legislate or too trivial to condemn."[7]

Because of the secrecy involved, it is tough to get a handle on how many Americans have affairs. Estimates range from as low as 14% to as high as 70%. According to therapist and author, Peggy Vaughn, about 60% of men and 40% of women will have an affair at some point in their marriage. USA Today published a national study by the University of California, San Francisco showing that about 24% of men and 14% of women have had sex outside their marriages. Affairs affect one of every 2.7 couples, according to counselor Janis Abrahms Spring, author of After the Affair.

One study claims that 70% of married women and 54% of married men did not know of their spouses' extramarital activity. [8] Another study found that 2/3 of the wives whose husbands cheated had no idea of their infidelity because they failed to recognize the telltale signs. Experts say that a gut instinct is the most powerful indicator of a cheating lover. Adultery statistics state that 85% of woman who feel their lover is cheating are correct. Nearly 50% of men who feel their lover is cheating are right. The first clue is seldom obvious. Typically, it is a "feeling" that something is different.[9]

One clear element in the cheating game is that women are the victims more often than men as 80 to 85% of adultery victims are women between the ages of 25 and 50 years old. Interestingly, 10 to 20% of spousal cheating begins as an Internet affair in a chat room or game website.[10] The Internet is becoming a breeding ground for adultery, or at least experts who track the patterns of extramarital affairs say so. Another interesting statistic is rarely do people have one online affair. Over 90% of those involved in cyber affairs become addicted to them and continue them dropping one person for the next as soon as the drama and excitement wear down. Approximately 70% of time on-line activities stay confined to chat rooms or sending email; of these, the vast majorities are romantic in nature. Dr. Michael Adamse, PhD., co-author of Affairs of the Net: The Cybershrinks' Guide to Online Relationships[11]

In fact, the rate of cheating has stayed consistent, according to research expert Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey for the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Smith conducted the highly respected study “American Sexual Behavior,” a poll of 10,000 people over two decades. The study found that 22% of married men and 15% of married women have cheated at least once—similar to the results from the MSNBC.com/iVillage survey. Still, much of this depends on your definition of cheating. Nearly everybody considers sexual intercourse or oral sex to be cheating, but there are some other behaviors that fall into grayer areas.

Only 35% of unions survive an extramarital affair while 65% of marriages break up because of adultery. Studies also found that men are less forgiving of affairs than women. When a woman has a physical affair, she is risking her marriage more than a man who has a physical affair. Women are more forgiving.


[1] National Opinion Research Center, http://www.norc.uchicago.edu/

[2] Probe Ministries, Adultery in the Church, November 14,1998, http://www.probe.org/docs/c-adultery2.html

[3] Models Of Flock Disappointment From American Church History: Parallels With The Duping Of The Y2K Flocks, Americanwasteland.com, January 5, 2000, D. Marty Lasley, http://www.americanwasteland.com/y2kmodels.html

[4] Kenneth L. Woodward, Sex, Morality And The Protestant Minister, What Sexual Standards Should The Clergy Obey?, NEWSWEEK, July 28, 1997, http://www.newsweek.com/id/97987

[5] Sex, Morality And The Protestant Minister, Newsweek Magazine, Kenneth L. Woodward, July 28, 1997, http://www.newsweek.com/1997/07/27/sex-morality-and-the-protestant-...

[6] The New Affair Treatment Considerations, Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, Joan D. Atwooda and Limor Schwartz, 2002

[8] Religious Tolerance.Org, Religious Beliefs in the United States, General religious beliefs, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_poll.htm

[9] The Truth About Infidelity, Who potentially commits infidelity?: Anyone!, http://www.infidelity-help.us.com/

[10] Mitchell Files Case History, Statistics on Cheating Spouses, 2001, http://shop.store.yahoo.com/eaglesnestpub/statoncheats.html

[11] Affairs of the net: The cybershrink's guide to online relationships, Michael Adamse, Health Communications, 2000

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Comment by Donald R Barbera on August 9, 2017 at 6:11pm
I purposely used the word sin because it is a concept Christians seem to know a lot about despite their preaching about it constantly. To me, foreign concept but I'm sure some would assign it to me but "Frankly Scarlett, I don't give a shit." However I like reminding them it is their concept.
Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on August 9, 2017 at 2:47pm

Like cathy: ky, I avoid the concept "sin". As a polyamorist, I don't assume monogamy values. Grinning Cat's sexual ethics sound great. 

Comment by Loren Miller on August 9, 2017 at 1:48pm

GC, your chart is pretty amazing (if difficult to follow in places!), and it illustrates the amazing variety of non-traditional sexual relationships, in and out of "traditional" marriage.  Thanks for posting that.

Comment by kathy: ky on August 9, 2017 at 10:29am
Since I'm atheist and don't believe in sin it's definitely not a sin. Our sexual behavior, and sometimes our sexual orientation, changes over time as everything else does. For most people. I'll add that I agree with Daniel. If we live by the rule of not hurting others most especially our partners then the rest will sort itself out.
Comment by Grinning Cat on August 9, 2017 at 10:14am

... live [life] well for yourself and others. Especially if you have committed to someone and you are their rock.

Hear, hear!

My understanding is that adultery in the Bible was a woman and man having sex if the woman was married or betrothed to someone else -- if she "belongs" to another man, and any resulting children would "adulterate" or make impure the presumed family line, an idea which supposedly could arouse visceral disgust back in the day (dimly remembered from L. William Countryman's Dirt, Greed, and Sex). Married men were free to sleep around (and acquire more wives and concubines).

I'll repeat a very concise statement of sexual ethics I heard years ago:

  1. Tell no lies;
  2. Spread no diseases;
  3. Conceive no children;* and
  4. Break no hearts.

* (with my added asterisk that a female-male couple might intentionally and thoughtfully decideto conceive a child!)

It's difficult to know just how many people engage in swinging, polyamory, and other forms of ethical, responsible nonmonogamy. Franklin Veaux has a diagram of MANY different types of nonmonogamous relationships (mostly ethical, except for "religious/social polygamy" and "cheating") -- click to enlarge:

Comment by Frankie Dapper on August 9, 2017 at 9:24am

good show Daniel W..words of wisdom



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