I love the idea of there being two sexes, don't you? -James Thurber (1894-1961), from a 1939 cartoon caption in The New Yn'rk~r.
Fatal Attraction is a movie about a married New York lawyer and his weekend affair with a woman book editor who refuses to drop the entanglement until his wrathful wife puts her rival permanently out of print. It is a movie that makes an extramarital affair as inviting as a picnic on an airport runway, and hundreds of thousands of Canadians have seen it since it opened across the country on Sept. 18. It is a morality play with an overstated but straightforward message for wives and husbands: do not mess around. But for thousands of Canadians, the warn ing comes too late. The sexual behavior segment of the 1987 Maclean's/Decima Poll showed that 12 per cent of married, separated, divorced or widowed respondents-or those living common-law-claim to have had extramarital affairs. Nine per cent of the still-married respon dents said that they had had affairs, compared with 22 per cent of those previously married and 24 per cent of those in common-law relationships. Sixty-five per cent of the unfaithful said that they-unlike the trio in Fatal Attraction-suffered no emotional or physical effects as a consequence, and 27 per cent claimed that the experience had not deterred them from doing it again. But more men (34 per cent) were undeterred than women (21 per cent). And the poll found one individ ual who claimed to have committed "95 adulterous acts." Of those who admitted to affairs, 26 per cent said that they had four or more affairs. In the total group of ex tramarital adventurers, men outnum bered women almost 2 to 1, but women were twice as likely to have suffered
emotionally or physically. Of those who reported ill effects, the most com mon for both sexes was emotional stress-32 per cent of the men and 58 per cent of the women felt it. The sec ond most common result for both men and women was guilt. At the same time, the poll findings clearly confused some Canadians. Isa bel! Harvey, for one, a 63-year-old Sas katoon mother of 12 children and
grandmother of 28, has been married to the same man for 47 years. Said Harvey: "People today are too freewheel ing in sex. Why do peo ple need to look for oth er sources of sex? I had my hands full with my husband and my 12 chil dren. I didn't have time to get into mischief." But a lot of Canadians apparently do have the time. Nine per cent of the women in the survey group and seven per cent of the men said that they believed their spouses had had an af fair. That belief was most prevalent among poli participants be tween 35 and 39, among the religiously unaffili ated, among Tories and New Democrats and among workers in lowlevel service occupa tions, who were the least likely among peo ple who have jobs to ad mit having had affairs themselves. Asked how they responded to infi delity, 26 per cent said they either broke off the relationship or got a di vorce. But 22 per cent
did nothing, 12 per cent just got angry and six per cent forgave the offender. Apparently, many affairs are never discovered. A 64-year-old Montreal woman, who requested anonymity, said that she had an affair "many years ago" that neither affected her marriage nor made her feel guilty. "I don't think an affair should be the only reason for a marriage break down," she said. "I mean, who owns
who anyway?” Then she added, “It was not as much fun as it could have been.”
The results also showed that 31 per cent of those who had had an affair themselves said that they thought their spouses had had one as well. But 46 per cent of the people who suspected their spouses of having had extramarital sex had done so themselves. The poll indicated that French-Canadians are more likely than English-Canadians to have affairs—by a margin of 3 to 2—but are less likely to suffer as a result. Among Canadians generally, the emotional pain was worse for those under 30 than for any other age group. Poll participants between the ages of 45 and 49 were the most likely to admit having had an illicit relationship.
One-third of all affairs involved people whose household incomes were at least $45,000 a year. Housewives and low-level service workers were the least likely to have affairs, and those who did were the largest proportion of respondents reporting a bad reaction.
Extramarital activity was most common among Canadians who had no religious preference and was least common among those with no political preference.
But that distinction disappeared when it came to the effects of an affair. Thirty-five per cent of those with no religious preference who had had affairs said that they endured emotional or physical suffering— an aftershock rate higher than Roman Catholics (32 per cent) and Anglicans (23 per cent), but less than United Church adherents (37 per cent).
The politically uncommitted were the least likely to have an extramarital sexual liaison, and they too were a fairly high number—31 per cent—of respondents reporting suffering ill effects afterward. That compared with 23 per cent of Progressive Conservatives, 34 per cent of Liberals and 41 per cent of New Democrats—who, among the major parties, were most likely to report having had an affair in the first place.
As for the effects of a respondent’s affair on his or her family, mental an-
guish headed the list, followed by separation, divorce, health problems and violence.
The statistics indicate that the individual more likely to have had an affair is a separated, divorced or widowed Montreal male, irreligious and living common-law, who earned at least $45,000 a year from a professional occupation.
Elsewhere, this year’s Maclean’s/ Decima Poll found that while people who described themselves as sexually “very active” have remained a fairly
constant minority since 1984, the number of those who are “somewhat active”—the largest category—has declined to 44 per cent in the current
survey from 60 per cent of the total respondents three years ago. Those who say that they are “not very active” have increased to 29 per cent of the total from 11 in the same period, and the ranks of the “not active at all” have risen slightly to 12 per cent from 10. At the same time, the proportion of monogamists has risen marginally in the current poll to 72 per cent from 71 per cent in 1986 and 69 per cent in 1985. The individual more likely to have had multiple sex partners in the past year, according to the poll, was an
under-30, single, male British Columbian in a professional occupation. According to Allan Gregg, the chairman of Decima Research Ltd., the spread of AIDS “is having an inhibiting effect on sexual behavior patterns.” Jacqueline Harris, 33, who works in the service department of a Calgary car dealership, said that she had her last affair nine years ago, but during one period, while working part time in a bar, she slept with about 20 men, solely for physical gratification. Married for 13 years and the mother of one child, Harris said that her husband knew about her affairs and that he had two of his own, which were “less disturbing to me than mine were to him.” Added Harris: “I can’t say that I would never do it again. I am tempted from time to time.” Among the survey’s nine age groups from 18 to 65-and-over, the
most sexually active were the 30-to34-year-olds, 68 per cent of whom described themselves as either “somewhat” or “very” active. Next, at 66 per cent, were those 25 to 29, and third, at 65 per cent—reassuring perhaps for people who equate middle age with sexual slowdown—were respondents aged 50 to 54. In fourth place were participants between 35 and 39, and the 18-to-24-year-olds trailed in fifth. Gregg said that the low incidence of sex among members of the younger group reflects a growing sexual conservatism, particularly among the young. And Timothy Larsen, a 26year-old Regina construction worker,
said the fear of AIDS has become a factor in that conservatism. He added that the risk “has drastically changed my sex habits. I used to go out quite a bit and get lucky. Now I think of finding a girlfriend first; I don’t just go home with the easiest girl.” Thomas Duhaime, 24, a firstyear student at Canadore Community College in North Bay,
Ont., said that his friends, too, are now “more careful when it comes to sex” because of the concern over AIDS.
Sexual activity, the poll found, is directly related to income—the more people earn, the more likely they are to be active. Only 39 per cent of those with household incomes below $10,000 a year fell into the “somewhat” or “very” active classification, compared with 70 per cent at $45,000 and over. Fully 26 per cent of people making less than $10,000 a year said that they were celibate, compared with eight per cent of the highest income earners.
Managers and those who work in the professions were far more sexually active than teachers, office and production workers and service industry personnel.
Rearranged by religion, 69 per cent of United Church adherents declared themselves “somewhat” or “very” sexually active, compared with Anglicans (64 per cent) and Roman Catholics (48 per cent). At the same time, among those who identified themselves politically as Conservatives, 61 per cent said that they were somewhat or very sexually active. Among Liberals, the percentage was 55 per cent and among the New Democrats, 67 per cent.
In the whole survey group, 17 per cent said that they had had sex with someone they regarded as a stranger—25 per cent of men and 10 per cent of women.
More than 25 per cent of production workers said they had had sex with a stranger. The percentage increased with educational levels, although there did not appear to be any correlation with income brackets.
Sex with strangers was most common among self-styled atheists and agnostics and people with no reli-
gious preference. Twenty-four per cent of New Democrats said that they had had sex with a stranger, compared with 16 per cent of Liberals and 13 per cent of Tories. Single people having that experience outranked
married respondents by more than 3 to 1.
Vivian Carter, 30, of Toronto, the mother of a nine-month-old daughter and married for the second time, said
that sexual behavior has changed since the mid-1970s. She added: “The sensuous flirting doesn’t seem to be around like it used to be. It’s so unemotional, it’s almost businesslike. Men and women get together and they negotiate sex.” A 29-year-old Toronto woman, married and the mother of two young children, said that an unhappy marriage led her recently to begin an affair with a man who was “almost a stranger.” Added the woman, who asked that her name be withheld: “I did it to fulfil my own physical needs, to find out if I was still attractive to anyone else.” Now, because her lover will not tell her how many other women he is having sex with, she says that she worries she may have contracted AIDS but is afraid to go to her doctor.
The regional survey of sexual activity in the 10 provinces and two biggest cities, Toronto S and Montreal, indicated ! there is less sexual activity among people in big cities than in largely rural parts of the country. Newfoundland, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia placed first, second, third and fourth in the percentage of respondents who described themselves as either “somewhat” or “very” sexually active. Newfoundland’s 88 per cent compared with 68 per cent for Metropolitan Toronto, which ranked eighth in the areas surveyed. Montreal ranked 11th with 35 per cent. Twentyfour per cent of Manitobans said that they were sexually “very active,” and 21 per cent of Newfoundlanders gave that response, compared with 18 per cent in Alberta and Metro Toronto.
Of Canadians in five geographical regions, those in British Columbia were the most likely to have had an extramarital affair, not to have suffered as a consequence, to have had sex with a stranger and to suspect their mates of having an affair. People in the Atlantic Provinces had the lowest percentages in those categories. For Canadians in the Atlantic region, it would seem, the sexual patterns of the West Coast do not exert a Fatal Attraction.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.