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Monogamy and Infidelity in the USA and Japan
This paper will examine the differences in sexual behaviors and attitudes in the Japanese and American cultures. One sexual attitude (monogamy) and one sexual behavior (infidelity) were chosen for the comparison. Marital monogamy is monogamy in marriage; sexual monogamy implies a sexual relationship between two people with no other partners, while social monogamy refers to a relationship between two people who live together, have sexual relationships, but also do not have any outside partners (Calder & Beaman, 2014). Infidelity (also adultery) is a type of sexual behavior when one of the partners engages in sexual or romantic relationships outside his/her current relationship. Monogamy and infidelity in the Japanese and American cultures will be examined below.
Monogamy in the American and Japanese cultures
Monogamy was believed to be the fundamental distinction of Western civilization from the Eastern. It is deeply rooted in Christianity, and the heterosexual monogamy is the most widespread form of marriage in the Western cultures, i.e. in the American culture (Calder & Beaman, 2014). Although polygamy and polyandry were quite frequent in the Western cultures, with the rise of Christianity and ban of any adultery monogamy soon became the only ‘morally right’ form of a relationship (Calder & Beaman, 2014).
Since the first citizens of the USA were Europeans who also brought Catholicism along, it is not surprising that monogamy was so deeply rooted in the American culture. However, monogamy was present during the Greek and Roman empires, so it was not completely an invention of Christianity (Witte, 2015). Monogamy has been a part of the Western culture for a long time, and, in the American culture, it was “inextricably tied to the protection of life, liberty, and property in… a democratic society… governed by the rule of law” (Witte, 2015, p. 425). Moreover, polygamy was seen as an obstacle to civilization (especially in the 19 century) and considered as ‘barbarian’.
Opposite to the USA, polygamy was widespread in Japan in the pre-Meiji period. Confucianism placed the man above the woman in a relationship, so men were allowed to have polygamist relationships (i.e. several wives). However, to restrict women’s ambition to have several husbands, women were pressed to stay ‘pure’ and ‘faithful’ to their spouse (Witte, 2015). During the Meiji period, the Emperor and the Empress promoted an early form of monogamy by appearing together in public (Germer, Mackie, & Wöhr, 2014). The Emperor had many concubines, but to establish a positive public image and solve the problem of legal heirs, he and his wife encouraged monogamy.
In the early 20 century monogamy became a common form of relationship, although one should not forget about the ‘comfort women’ that were engaged in sexual slavery during World War II (Germer et al., 2014). The successful establishment of monogamy in Japan is also believed to be the outcome of the Western (American) influence on the Japanese culture (Suzuki, 2010). To conclude, if monogamy was rooted in the American culture due to the Christian beliefs of citizens, it was not as widespread in the Japanese culture until the end of the 19 century.
Infidelity in the American and Japanese cultures
Position on infidelity is quite different in the American and Japanese cultures. Any form of marriage except monogamous is forbidden in the USA, although Mormons were allowed to have plural wives for some time in Utah (Witte, 2015). Mistress keeping is still common in modern Japan, although it can also lead to trial or divorce if the wife finds it out (Stamos, 2011). According to Stamos (2011), Japanese men feel more distressed about sexual infidelity than Japanese women do (p. 68). Such an attitude could be explained by Confucianism that influenced Japanese culture significantly. If interpreted in a certain way, one could presume that Confucianism indeed encourages male infidelity. The American culture, oppositely to the Japanese, is built on a religion that restricted any infidelity and preached chastity.
Witte (2015) states that “for at least half a millennium the Christian Church… branded sodomy and polygamy…”, as well as infidelity, and marked them as sin or sexual deviation (p. 451). Infidelity is directly linked to monogamy and can be explained not only through the religious, but also through the socio-economic basis because infidelity is influenced by the economic status of the family members (Stamos, 2011). Moreover, the sex of the adulterer has directly linked to the probability of the divorce: the wife’s infidelity is less likely to be forgiven by the husband (Stamos, 2011). This fact could be connected to the wife’s subordinate position during the centuries, both in the Japanese and American cultures.
Moreover, as Suzuki (2010) notices, infidelity (as well as child abuse or alcoholism) often leads to divorce in modern Japan (p. 102). Since the divorce, itself remains taboo, and patriarchal attitudes toward women do not change significantly, Japanese women have to disregard their husband’s infidelity in particular cases. As for the North American culture, genetic ties between the child and the parents have been playing an important role in it, so infidelity was condemned both in the 16 and in 21 centuries (Witte, 2015). However, as studies have shown, more men than women find sexual infidelity distressing, while women labeled emotional infidelity more distressing than sexual (Aumer, 2016). Thus, the attitude toward infidelity is based on religious, cultural, and socio-economic specificities.
How are Monogamy and Infidelity Perceived and Displayed
If monogamy is perceived as not the only form of romantic/sexual relationship today, infidelity is still a taboo and usually disregarded by society. Although the wider public perceives monogamy as the only ‘natural’ form of a human relationship, polygamy and polyamory are getting more recognition nowadays (Stamos, 2011). Some find monogamy not enough and explore their personality through a polyamorous relationship (Calder & Beaman, 2014). Thus, the perceiving of monogamy by society has shifted, although such an attitude is more common for younger generations.
However, monogamy is still the only suitable form of relationship for modern American Christians (Witte, 2015). As for infidelity, due to the feminist movements of the 20 and 21 century, women’s infidelity can be regarded as empowering, especially for women who suffered from an abusive relationship (Stamos, 2011). Since the patriarchal approach still lingers in the Japanese culture, monogamy is encouraged, but the husband’s infidelity is not as punishable as the wife’s infidelity. Moreover, the (female) lover of the husband will be perceived as the one who ruined the family, i.e. violator of the monogamy (Stamos, 2011). Polyamory is discouraged in modern Japan both by society and the law, so patriarchal attitudes, although transformed, still shapes Japanese culture.
Aumer, K. (2016). The psychology of love and hate in intimate relationships. Berlin, Germany: Springer.
Calder, G., & Beaman, L. G. (2014). Polygamy’s rights and wrongs: Perspectives on harm, family, and law. Vancouver, Canada: UBC Press.
Germer, A., Mackie, V., & Wöhr, U. (2014). Gender, nation and state in modern Japan. London, England: Routledge.
Stamos, D. N. (2011). Evolution and the big questions: Sex, race, religion, and other matters. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
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Suzuki, T. (2010). Soul Federation. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corporation.
Witte Jr, J. (2015). The Western case for monogamy over polygamy. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.