“In my work I meet a lot of couples who do not engage in affection other than sexual touch because all affectionate touch has become associated with foreplay,” says Smith. “In other words, if a partner does not want to be sexual they will avoid anything that could give the impression that they are open to being sexual. This will often include hugging, kissing (beyond a peck on the cheek), cuddling, holding hands or sometimes even sitting close on a sofa. They might also avoid any touch once in bed. However, they may not register that they are doing this and may, at first, consider themselves affectionate.”
Male partners will often consider themselves affectionate but in their minds the initial hug or touch is a precursor to sex, so while the touch itself isn’t sexual, the message that goes with it is suggestive, which may make the female partner dread that touch, she adds.
The Irish may appear to be a faithful lot, according to the survey, which finds that just over 90 per cent of people claimed to be monogamous. On the other hand, one in five people skipped the question, perhaps fearful of revealing too much even though the survey was confidential and anonymous.
The seven-year itch was evidenced in the survey, with most affairs happening at that point in the main relationship, leading Murphy to suggest that “seven years often seems to emerge as a time in a relationship when things need to be reevaluated: perhaps this is a good idea, with both people recommitting or otherwise to the exclusiveness of the relationship.”
Lesbians are least likely to have cheated (2 per cent), followed by straight females (4 per cent), while nearly one in three bisexual males have strayed. One in seven bisexual males and females were in open relationships.
“It’s fair to say that questions regarding infidelity are generally under-reported as affairs, for understandable reasons, are kept private and secret,” says Madden. “That said, it’s interesting to note that the majority of people who have had affairs have not disclosed this to their partner.”
The 90 per cent monogamy rate – if it is accurate – shows that people aspire to exclusivity in relationships, says Murphy, although the rules are different for gay men and bisexuals. This leads her to wonder whether these two groups have a stronger need to explore their sexuality.
When we asked about the frequency of being “unfaithful”, 54 per cent of heterosexual male cheaters and 42 per cent of heterosexual female cheaters said “on a few occasions”. But women are more likely to be involved in long-term affairs, rather than having one-night stands. “This would seem to support the idea that men have affairs for the sex and women for the intimacy or relationship,” says Murphy. “Men have often said that the affair had nothing to do with their primary relationship, whereas women who have affairs tend to know that it is directly related to a lack in their primary relationship.”
However, we must sound a note of caution regarding how people define “monogamy”. Is it a full-blown affair, or a stolen kiss and cuddle? “We don’t know what the respondents regard as cheating,” comments Smith. “Some women consider watching porn as cheating. Some men think chat-room sex and using sex workers is not cheating. Some people, particularly women, engage in emotional affairs where they can experience all the romantic and sexual feelings of an affair without ever acting on them. Some people don’t consider it cheating if they don’t care for or love the person they are having sex with.”
Curated by Erbe