National surveys of sexual attitudes and behaviour in France automatically include a chapter on affairs and how they are conducted unlike the staid British reports. So where is the victim? Most continental men and women want people to notice their efforts. But why else do we invest in looking good, if not to attract admirers? Britain follows closely, with one-third of first marriages failing. Her serious affair with Hollande started while he was still known as the long-term partner of Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children, his political ally and competitor all rolled into one. Affairs get a negative press in Anglo-Saxon countries, where they are discussed in terms of infidelity, adultery, cheating, dishonesty, and betrayal.
And of course there is equal opportunity for both spouses to have their flings. Four-fifths of people in Britain condemn affairs as always wrong — even though two-thirds do not regard sex as a central part of marriage. As one Frenchman noted, offering an exciting weekend away in an attractive destination always secured a seduction. The consequence is an over-reaction to discovery of sexual infidelities, and high divorce rates, leading to serial monogamy across life. Within Europe, the French have possibly the most permissive views on affairs and casual flings, which are taken for granted as something that happen throughout life, if you are lucky. As a result, there are stories of young mothers with infants in pushchairs who set out to seduce attractive men for casual flings, as well as stories of elegant older women who seduce the athletic tennis coaches and young swimming pool attendants in Club Med holiday resorts. In the southern European view, marriage is a more flexible relationship — it is essentially about children, property and inheritance, so marriage is for life, pretty much; but where necessary both spouses find friends and lovers outside the marriage. But the widely-accepted rules of the affair in France also mean that players should be discreet enough for affairs to remain invisible, even to close companions and partners. Most continental men and women want people to notice their efforts. So where is the victim? This Puritan approach to relationships can turn marriage into a prison, by insisting that marriage entails absolute sexual fidelity. In contrast, women in Puritan Anglo-Saxon cultures are more likely to regard such an invitation as sexual harassment rather than a compliment — especially if it comes from their boss. However, friends will cheerfully discuss their affairs with each other — in complete confidence of course. National surveys of sexual attitudes and behaviour in France automatically include a chapter on affairs and how they are conducted unlike the staid British reports. It is the carnival spirit of occasional delicious transgression and excess followed by a return to normality. Two-thirds of Frenchmen and half of French women believe that sexual attraction inevitably leads to intimacy; two-thirds of men and one-third of women agree that sex and love are two separate things; two-fifths of the French think love does not require complete sexual fidelity; and one-quarter even believe that transitory infidelities can strengthen love. However the vast majority of affairs in continental countries are what I call playfairs — short but sweet diversions from day-to-day realities and obligations. So the French are five times more likely than the Italians their closest rivals in hedonism to see flings and affairs as beneficial, overall. French and Italian marriages end in divorce less often than almost anywhere else in the Western world. French people perceive their social environment as tolerant and permissive, so that they can rely on tacit or even active support for any affairs. Affairs get a negative press in Anglo-Saxon countries, where they are discussed in terms of infidelity, adultery, cheating, dishonesty, and betrayal. In the hedonistic or libertine perspective, affairs should be tolerated, with everyone turning a blind eye to them, so long as they are properly discreet. The importance of sexuality is attested to by the fact that French hospitals automatically give mothers of newborns lessons in pelvic exercises before they leave hospital — to ensure that new mothers get back into shape for love-making as soon as possible. Britain follows closely, with one-third of first marriages failing. Indeed the French have developed the affair into an art form, with conventions on romantic dinners, elegant lunches, gifts, weekend trips to exotic and glamorous places like Venice or Istanbul. The art of seduction is practiced by everyone, from presidents courting votes to salespeople seeking customers.
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