Global Politics

Marriage, infidelity and politics in America

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South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's admissions about his private life have raised as many questions as they have eyebrows. In one of his many puzzling statements, he said: "I am quite certain that there were a handful of instances wherein I crossed the lines that I shouldn't have crossed as a married man; but never crossed the ultimate line."

To get to the bottom of what the "ultimate line" means, "The Takeaway" talked to Audicia Ray, a professor of sexuality at Rutgers University and author of "Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads, and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration"; and Debby Herbenick a research scientist at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University. Herbenick is the author of the forthcoming book, "Because Its Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction."

Ray: "Its' not so much just about the idea of 'what is sex,' but also what is the ultimate line in violating relationship vows, especially in a marriage. So there's definitely a divide between what people consider that line to be in sex, and what that line is when you're violating what you agreed with your spouse." 

Herbenick says that married couples think differently about the issue and don't really talk about it: "There's often very little shared understanding or shared meaning of what it really does mean to cross the line. So often you have one person who's done something, and the other partner may say, 'well you shouldn't have done that, that crossed the line, that went too far.' And the other one can sometimes claim ignorance."

She says about the Sanford situation, "It does seem that they had had some discussion earlier, at least with a few different reports, but it's really unclear if it was honest communication ... as often happens in couples, it's up for grabs whether or not what happened actually gave his wife real information about what he had been doing."

Statisics show that what men consider sex and what women consider sex varies radically by community, culture and currently accepted norms.

Ray: "I think the place where that can be bridged is where people need to talk more about what they consider sex and what they consider cheating."

Herbenick believes it's a moving target: "What someone considers sex, or cheating, or ok or not ok early in a relationship also changes, and people don't always inform their partners that their perspective has changed.

"And people often give themselves excuses, such as when they say that, 'well it's not just sex, I've fallen in love.' And now this is now a love story and being in love somehow gives you certain permissions that maybe you wouldn't have given yourself before."

"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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