Recognition of the importance of sexual research has been a slow process. In the United States it has been only since World War II that any significant research has been undertaken, given the anti-sexual public attitudes towards these supposedly "taboo" subjects. The collection of reliable material on extramarital sexual activity was, until the Seventies, especially difficult due to informants' fears of exposure and censure. Consequently, there are few early broad-based surveys to which today's attitudes and practices can be compared.
Sexologists will be eternally grateful to Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin and Gebhard (1948/1953) for their pioneer research on post-World-War-II sexuality which has served as a benchmark against which all subsequent research, including that on extramarital sexuality can be measured.
The findings of Kinsey and his associates, that 50% of their married men and 26% of their married women had had some incidents of extramarital coitus, astonished the American public at that time and, indeed, in some segments continues to do so to this day. The researchers went even further than tabulation, however, and tried to define the background variables which determined different rates of extramarital sex for sub-groups of society.
To briefly summarize their results, Kinsey et al. found that for men extramarital sex was most common among those who were not religious and who were from urban areas. In addition, lower class males experienced extramarital sex at younger ages than did middle or upper class men. For women, they discovered that the most likely age for extramarital sex was between the mid-thirties and early forties. Education increased the likelihood of a female's having extramarital sex, as did a history of premarital intercourse.
Since Kinsey's sample was influenced by Northern and urban elements, some critics have stated that his research data does not apply to the entire spectrum of the American public. Despite any degree of validity of this criticism, Kinsey's research in human sexual behavior is monumental and provides, for our purposes, an invaluable behavior pattern among his particular group.
Neubeck and Schletzer's (1962) structured interview survey of 40 married Midwestern couples provides a contrast to Kinsey's findings, as their incidence of extramarital sex among Minneapolis area professionals yielded an incidence rate of only 13% overall. While their figures are not broken down by sex, their results do indicate that, in general, individuals from this part of the country were at that time more conservative than Kinsey's population.
The 1966 study conducted by Whitehurst (1966) sampled 112 middle class Midwestern businessmen via a questionnaire. In addition to querying his population on their sexual behavior in and outside of marriage, he also measured their social alienation using a scale developed out of questions on powerlessness and social isolation. The results showed an overall rate of extramarital sex of 23% (again a figure lower than Kinsey's), with 80% of the extensive extramarital involvement by the high alienation group.
Whitehurst's research bears out Kinsey's contention that religious involvement is a factor in extramarital sex, as he found that 83% of the non-extramarital sex group gave religious and moral reasons as the cause of their fidelity. Furthermore, Whitehurst's data explained the Kinsey correlation between age and extramarital sex by identifying increasing alienation over time as the mediating variable.
While Whitehurst's results cannot be generalized because of the location and class bias of his population, he takes the position that phenomena occurring in his trend-setting upper middle class will sooner or later spread to the rest of the population.
This same reasoning was followed by Cuber and Harnoff (1965) as justification for their case history interview study of 437 upper middle class marriages. While they provided no statistics, their observations of the effect of extramarital sex on marriage makes it clear that variables such as partner...