Marital Separation and Extramarital Sexual Behavior

Graham B. Spanier, Randie L. Margolis

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92 Scopus citations


The factors related to the occurrence of extramarital coitus (EMC) among persons whose marriages terminate in separation or divorce and the impact of participation in EMC on postmarital adjustment were examined. It was hypothesized that premarital coital experience, quality of marital sex, length of marriage, religiosity, and physical attractiveness would affect the occurrence of EMC. Additionally, tests were performed to assess whether participation in EMC increased, decreased, or had no effect on postmarital adjustment. The data are from a study of 205 individuals, separated no longer than 26 months, who completed in-depth, face-to-face interviews about their marriage, its failure, and its aftermath. Most respondents who experienced EMC report that it was an effect, rather than a cause, of marital problems. Yet respondents tend to report that their spouse's infidelity was a cause of marital problems. Guilt is a significant by-product of EMC for men and women, but men experience somewhat less guilt. Guilt is inversely related to satisfaction with EMC. Women report a significantly greater emotional involvement with their extramarital partners than men. Females who blamed their spouse or another person for the breakup of their marriage were significantly less likely to have had EMC, but no such relationship was found among males. Religiosity does not predict EMC, but among those who have had EMC, religiosity is positively related to how long after marriage EMC first occurred. There is no relationship between the presence or absence of EMC and marital quality at time of separation. Furthermore, EMC does not appear to be related to postmarital adjustment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-48
Number of pages26
JournalThe Journal of Sex Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 1983

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Psychology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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