Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Adultery is Common, But Not Normal

After every big adultery scandal, such as Elliot Spitzer's, someone will run a story about how common adultery is in the animal world. In this week's entry, the New York Times' Natalie Angier opines that "In Most Species, Fidelity is a Fantasy." She combines the results of very varied studies about shrikes, voles, foxes, gibbons, and humans to conclude that "anywhere from 10 to 70 percent of the offspring will prove to have been sired by somebody other than the resident male." No big deal, she implies.

But it is a big deal. And it makes a big difference which end of the spectrum we fall on. In fact human beings are close to the 10% end. The great majority of children are fathered by their mother's husbands.

I think the subtext of articles like "Faithfulness is a Fantasy" is to normalize adultery. This is not simply reporting the facts, but making them worse than they are now. The truth is that among human beings, fidelity is normal, adultery is rare.

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