Why is acceptance of marital infidelity growing?
In her recent article published in the blog of the Institute for Family Studies, Alysse ElHage discusses potential contributors to the increased acceptance of marital infidelity amongst American adults. According to recent research conducted by Paul Hemez at the National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) at Bowling Green State University, adult American attitudes regarding marital infidelity have changed recently. Data from the General Social Survey (GSS) shows that disapproval by American adults of marital infidelity had been increasing since the early 1970s. At its peak in 2008, 84% of American adults said that it is “always wrong” for a married person to have extra-marital relations. However, according to data gathered in 2014, the number has now dropped to 79% of American adults who said that marital infidelity is “always wrong”. American adults, therefore, are now more accepting of marital infidelity than they were in the last survey.
Why is the idea of marital infidelity less appalling to American adults than it used to be? ElHage notes in her article that millennials, individuals between the ages of 18 and 33 years old, accounted for 27% of the participants in the 2014 survey. Millennials reported lower levels of “disapproval for marital infidelity” compared to the other generations included in the survey (mature/silent, boomers, and gen x).
So what are the contributing factors to this increased approval of marital infidelity amongst American millennials? ElHage proposes that the rampant use of pornography amongst young adults today could be influencing their opinion on the matter. As ElHage explains, millennials are the first generation in history to grow up in a culture where pornography is easily accessible and widespread. Despite the fact that pornography is sometimes held up as an aid for marital intimacy, research shows that there is a significant correlation between a person’s use of pornography and a decrease in his/her ability to attain genuine marital intimacy. Researcher Kyler Rasmussen reported in his study from the Journal of Family Theory and Review that there is a positive correlation between recurrent pornography use and marital infidelity. Therefore, as ElHage asserts, it is not all that surprising that millennials are more accepting of marital infidelity based on their general acceptance of pornography. A Barna Group study found that millennials watch pornographic materials more frequently than older age groups do. According to the study, 57% of young adults (ages 18-24) and 43% of older millennials (ages 25-30) reported viewing pornography once or twice a month, whereas 41% of gen-x adults and 17% of boomers reported viewing pornography once or twice a month. Correlation is not causation; however, pornography could be a major contributor to the elevated approval of marital infidelity.
Society relies heavily on strong marriages and families. While the culture at large may be more accepting of pornography, research indicates that frequent use of pornography has profound and negative consequences on marriages and families. As ElHage says, “Youth today are absorbing porn in greater quantities than ever before…along with the harmful values porn teaches about sex and relationships – values that are the direct opposite of those that contribute to a healthy marriage culture.” If we are to strengthen marriages, it is essential that the truths regarding pornography be revealed and that they be taken into deep consideration by all adults today.
About the author
Currently studying theology and psychology at Saint Vincent College, Alexandra Lahoud is an intern for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB.