Lust in Translation
Lust in Translation: Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee by Pamela Drukerman came out in 2008. Former foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal now living in Paris, Druckerman offers an anecdotal exploration of the international etiquette of adultery. Druckerman’s work is quirky, digressive and media quotable.
Adultery provokes more outrage in America than anywhere else. In America people often rank cheating as worse than Polygamy or Human Cloning. Americans tend to feel a need to confess their sins, thus causing themselves and everyone around them pain. Only in America do people feel the need to have “the talk” to declare themselves exclusive. We seem to believe that our men will want only us and never get aroused looking at another woman—ever! A fulfilling marriage is not just idea in America is an entitlement apparently. So, men and women find it easy to justify affairs by complaining that their marriages are unfulfilling and that they are unhappy.
When businessmen and presidents, such as Bill Clinton, have affairs, Americans tend to be very judgmental. It is as if lying to their spouses somehow makes them untrustworthy all around. People felt they couldn’t trust Bill Clinton after his affair with Monica Lewinski. But should we really judge someone entirely by one mistake they made? Do their follies in their private lives really affect their ability to run a country or do business or be a good doctor?
The Kinsey report from 1948 and 1953 declared that 50% of men and 26% of women had cheated or had an affair before the age of 40. However, when surveyed in 1991 it was reported that only 21% of men and 12% of women were having affairs in America. From 1991 to 2001 articles were written about how women were cheating more and more. Yet, this was also the time that the attitude toward cheating grew increasingly stricter in America.
America has a sort of Marriage-Industrial complex. Marriage, Affairs and Divorce and Self-Help books about these topics are big money makers. There are websites and forums devoted to people who want support while going through the process of discovering and recovering from an affair. They use all kinds of abbreviations in chats like D-Day for Discovery Day and R for recovery and XOP for Ex-Other Person and TOW for The Other Woman. America’s cure for adultery seems to be confession. It is all about keeping up constant communication with your partner and having full disclosure. But is that really healthy? Not all countries think so.
So how do Americans ranks among other countries as far as cheating goes? One survey questioned men who were married or co-habituating with a woman about having sexual other sexual partners just in the 12 months prior to the questionnaire. Here are the results:
Ivory Coast 36%
Brazil 12 %
By comparison women didn’t cheat near as much. For example 36% of men cheated in the Ivory Coast, but only 1.9% of women cheated. In Togo 37% of men cheated, while only .5% of women cheated. Very unequal in most places.
Although French Men tend to cheat about the same as American men, the French are much more discreet and laid back about the whole thing. There used to be the idea that if men were going to rendezvous, they would do it between 5pm and 7pm. But that is no longer the case. Monogamy is much desired in France as it is elsewhere, but when affairs to happen those who do the cheating do not torture themselves and rack themselves with guilt. Though most of France is Catholic, religion does not play as huge a role in their lives as it does American’s lives. They do not worry about sin. Instead, they simply try and be discreet and spare the other person’s feelings.
In Russia it is nearly obligatory to cheat! One psychologist recommends affairs as a way of strengthening the marriage. In 1996 it was said that ½ of all men cheat and ¼ of all women cheat. But perhaps men don’t cheat as much as they say they do. During the time of the Soviet Union sex was practically non-existent. Even gynecologists weren’t allowed to read books having to do with sex. It was all banned. Once things changed in 1991, Russians seemed to become obsessed with both sex and money. And when there are affairs, Russians will bluntly tell their significant other about it. They are harsh in their honesty sometimes. Women find that men die young and so dating married men is about the only way they can date it seems.
In Japan there are no double beds for sale. They sell only single futons. If a husband and wife want to be together they have to push their futons together. Apparently cuddling is not common in Japan. If everyone is having sex in Russia, then no one is having sex in Japan. Traditionally a woman becomes a wife. Once she has a child, she will then sleep in the same bed as that child. The husband will sleep on his own futon, but move a big Flat Screen TV into the room to keep himself company.
Men don’t tend to bring work or sex home in Japan. They often visit bars and massage parlors where they are tended to by hostesses. They pay for conversation, snacks, karaoke and sitting. It is very rare that Japanese men pay for intercourse though. They often will pay for oral or anal sex, but not regular intercourse. Women are more likely to have boyfriends to talk to and cuddle with. It is also women who are more likely to initiate a divorce in Japan.
In South Africa it is a very different story. Impotence to them means only being able to go one or two times a night! You wouldn’t think non-monogamous sex would be so rampant with the AIDS virus devastating the population, but it is. 1 in 5 adults in South Africa had HIV in 2003. 1 in 4 pregnant women in South Africa showed up at Clinics with HIV in 2000. In South Africa it is thought that 22% of men have HIV and in Swaziland 39% of men have HIV. Still, they are willing to risk death for a few minutes of sex. In Uganda word of mouth was able to change risky behavior and keep HIV from spreading so much, but not in South Africa and Swaziland.
In Indonesia there is a large Muslim population. They used to promote Polygamy. Many men would take second and third wives, but only with the permission of the first wife. However, Polygamy was outlawed by General Subarto from 1967 to 1998. Today it is rare, but not unheard of.
Cheating and affairs appear to be part of human nature, but how we deal with them differs from culture to culture. Each country has a set of unwritten rules and scripts that are run when it happens. Who’s to say which approach is right? But perhaps it is worth consideration that our way in America is not the ONLY way.