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Excerpted from the book THE NORMAL BAR. Copyright © 2013 by Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, and James Witte. Published by Harmony, an Imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. The Normal Bar is the world’s most extensive survey on romantic relationships, polling over 100,000 people and collecting over 1 million data points. The survey was conducted in 2011 using a powerful interactive survey tool called OnQ with the help of media partners The Huffington Post, Reader’s Digest, AARP, iVillage, & AOL.
According to data collected from The Normal Bar, 33% of men and 19% of women admitted to being unfaithful… But many of the individuals polled stressed that frequency of sexual infidelity matters. And there is a big difference between a single one-night stand in the course of a twenty-year marriage and a regular pattern of sexual affairs. Seventeen percent of the women who’d been sexually unfaithful and 23% of the men said it happened only once; and 36% of women and 33% of men said it happened two to five times. But that left more than 40% of unfaithful men and women who had to admit that it happened on more of a consistent basis!
For some couples, diminishing communication, affection, and attraction can all contribute to the desire to stray. The Normal Bar shows that loss of sexual pleasure or frequency can make even otherwise happy couples vulnerable. But where and how specifically are these temptations most likely to occur?
Close friends getting closer…
Are your friends your competition? Are you attracted to your partner’s friends? An overwhelming 86% of men and 85% of women said they don’t think they have any friends who tempt their partners. However, it appears that they are very much mistaken because, when we reversed the question, we found that nearly half (45%) of men and more than one-fourth (26%) of women in fact are attracted to friends of their partners and are tempted to act on it. This poses an uncomfortable dilemma, since most of us would like our partners to be friends with our friends—but not intimate friends.
The best defense is a good sexual offense. People who are extremely satisfied sexually are a lot less tempted to act on an outside attraction. While 52% of people who are unsatisfied with their sex lives responded that they would be tempted to act on an attraction outside of the relationship, only 17% of the people who are sexually satisfied said they’d be tempted.
Away on a business trip
Going away on a business trip might sound like fun if you don’t travel much, but people who travel a great deal don’t necessarily enjoy all the stress and lonely nights. After too many dinners alone or with nasty, tedious, or difficult clients, it can be a welcome counterpoint to meet someone attractive on the plane, at the airport, or at the hotel bar. Away from the watchful eyes of family, friends, and spouse, such meetings can also be seductive.
When we looked more closely at the group that cheated, we found that business trips were the most common settings for temptations that led to infidelity. More than one-third (36%) of men and 13% of women told us that they gave in to temptation on a business trip. The Normal Bar shows that, when broken out by years in a relationship, vulnerability to temptation during business trips increases greatly at six to nine years. This also happens to be the period when relationships are most fragile and need the most attention, so this isn’t very surprising.
What is surprising is that it doesn’t matter how happy these men and women were in their relationships or even how satisfied they were sexually at home. Some men and women just can’t or don’t want to resist a sexual opportunity that they’re likely to get away with. It’s often easier to enhance the adventure of life, or one’s ego, by a sexual liaison than to resist temptation, go back home, and figure out ways to make that life as thrilling as the opportunity.
Ran across an old flame
Here’s a warning to men: When an old flame approaches your lady, watch out. Nearly one-third (32%) of women who admitted to acting on sexual temptation said it was with an old boyfriend or crush, compared to 21% of men. And the danger zone for this occurring is two to five years into a relationship, when the rate of old-flame affairs among the unfaithful jumps to 42%!
The Normal Bar reveals an additional alarm in that old flames are just as appealing to those who are in sexually satisfying and extremely happy relationships. So if you value your relationship and your partner’s ex comes around, stay close and watchful. For quite a few people, old embers never totally die out.
A mundane sex life may encourage your partner to have a fling that doesn’t include you! Boredom was the reason 71% of unfaithful men and 49% of the women gave for acting on sexual temptation. Think that your relationship is so good that sexual boredom is no big deal? You could be wrong. Even people who are very happy in their relationships admitted to curing their sexual boredom with someone else.
Revenge for my partner’s infidelity
We all know that two wrongs don’t make a right. Apparently people who’ve been betrayed know this, too. Only 9% of men and 14% of women said they’d have sex with somebody else as revenge for their partner’s infidelity.
High sex drive and “I just can’t manage monogamy”
Many people, especially men, who feel they have high needs for sex feel entitled to get their sexual pleasure one way or another. Despite how much or how little they are sexually satisfied in their current relationships, they would cheat and respond, “I just can’t help myself.” This excuse was the reason 46% of men and 19% of women gave to explain why they’d have sex outside of their relationships. Age, years in relationship, happiness—none of these variables made a difference. There are some people out there who want variety and choose to have sex with other people no matter how sexually satisfied they already are in their relationships. Some people just can’t be monogamous, and that’s their normal.