Adultery is the voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and another person who is not his or her spouse, though in many places it is only considered adultery when a married woman has sexual relations with someone who is not her husband. In most cases, in western countries, only the married party is said to have committed adultery, and if both parties are married (but not to each other) then they both commit separate acts of adultery. In other countries, both parties to the adultery are considered guilty, while in others again only the woman is able to commit adultery and to be considered guilty.

Adultery is also referred to as extramarital sex, philandary or infidelity but does not include fornication. The term "adultery" for many people carries a moral or religious association, while the term "extramarital sex" is morally or judgmentally neutral.

The interaction between laws on adultery with those on rape has and does pose particular problems in societies which are especially sensitive to sexual relations by a married woman, such as some Muslim countries. [For example, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.] The difference between the offenses is that adultery is voluntary, while rape is not. If a woman claims that she has been raped, and the offense cannot be proved, then a conclusion that the sexual relations were voluntary may be drawn, and the consequences of adultery may result, including an honour killing. In those circumstances, a woman victim would be reluctant to report a rape against her.

The term adultery has a Judeo-Christian origin, though the concept of marital fidelity predates Judaism and is found in many other societies. Though the definition and consequences vary between religions, cultures and legal jurisdictions, the concept is similar in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and Hinduism has a similar concept. But the word should be used cautiously when discussing various cultures, some of which permit less permanent forms of marriage, or even sexual "lending". [ [ Encyclopedia Britannica Online, "Adultery"] ]

Historically, adultery has been considered to be a serious offense by many cultures. In some countries, adultery is a crime. However, even in jurisdictions where adultery is not itself a criminal offense, it may still have legal consequences, particularly in divorce cases. For example it may constitute grounds for divorce, it may be a factor to consider in a property settlement, it may affect the status of children, the custody of children, etc. Moreover adultery can result in social ostracism in some parts of the world.

Three recent studies in the United States, using nationally representative samples, have found that about 10-15% of women and 20-25% of men had engaged in extramarital sex.Clements, M. (1994, August 7). Sex in America today: A new national survey reveals howour attitudes are changing. Parade Magazine, 4-6.] Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H., Michael, R. T, & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.] [Wiederman, M. W. (1997). Extramarital sex: Prevalence and correlates in a national survey. Journal of Sex Research, 34, 167-174.]


The word "adultery" originates not from "adult", as is commonly thought, but from the Late Latin word for "to alter, corrupt": "adulterare". [ [] ]

"Adulterare" in turn is formed by the combination of "ad" ("towards"), and "alter" ("other"), together with the infinitive form "are" (making it a verb). Thus the meaning is literally "to make other". In contrast, the word "adult" (meaning a person of mature years) comes from another Latin root, "adolescere", meaning to grow up or mature: a combination of "ad" ("towards"), "alere" ("to nourish", "to grow"), and the inchoative infix "sc" (meaning "to enter into a state of"). [ [] ]


Although the legal definition of "adultery" differs in nearly every legal system, the common theme is sexual relations outside of marriage, in one form or another.

For example, New York defines an adulterer as a person who "engages in sexual intercourse with another person at a time when he has a living spouse, or the other person has a living spouse." [ with the wife of his neighbor.

Jesus taught that indulgence in adulterous thoughts could be just as harmful to the soul as actual adultery, though it cannot be inferred that both carry the same weight of guilt:

:"But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." ()

Rabbinic Judaism

Though the Torah prescribes the death penalty by stoning for adultery, the legal procedural requirements were very exacting and required the testimony of two witnesses of good character for conviction. In practice, nobody is convicted of adultery.

At the civil level, however, Jewish law (halakha) forbids a man to continue living with an adulterous wife, and he is obliged to divorce her. Also, an adulteress is not permitted to marry the adulterer, but, to avoid any doubt as to her status as being free to marry another or that of her children, he must give her a divorce as if they were married.

Also, Jewish law recognizes the "law of the land" in these matters, so that if the law of the land has greater restrictions, then they will also apply.


Under Muslim law, adultery (as is premarital sex and extramarital sex in general) is sexual intercourse by a married person, whether man or woman. Adultery is a violation of the marital contract and one of the major sins and is condemned by God in the Qur'an. It should be noted that adultery is usually used by Muslims to mean Zina which means both extramarital and premarital sex. For example, in the translated versions of the Qur'an and Hadith 'adultery' always translates back to 'Zina', except for some rare cases in the Hadith.

Qur'anic verses prohibiting adultery include:

:"Do not go near to adultery. Surely it is a shameful deed and evil, opening roads (to other evils)" (Quran 17:32).

:"Say, 'Verily, my Lord has prohibited the shameful deeds, be it open or secret, sins and trespasses against the truth and reason"' (Quran 7:33).

:"Women impure are for men impure, and men impure are for women impure and women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity." (Quran 24:26)

Though strict Muslim law prescribes severe punishments for extramarital sex, by both men and women (premarital sex is punishable with up to 100 lashes, while adultery is punishable by stoning), to obtain conviction, the act of sexual penetration must be attested by at least four male Muslim witnesses of good character, with the accused having a right to testify and their testimony given the most weight in the eyes of the judge(s). Also, punishments are reserved to the legal authorities and false accusations are to be punished severely. [ [] ] [ [] ] It has been said that these legal procedural requirements were instituted to make it impossible to obtain conviction. [ [] ]

Other historical practices

Historically, adultery was rigorously condemned and punished, usually only as a violation of the husband's rights. Among such peoples the wife was commonly reckoned as the property of her spouse, and adultery was therefore identified with theft. But it was theft of an aggravated kind, as the property which it would spoliate was more highly appraised than other chattels. It is not the seducer alone who suffers.

Severe penalties were imposed on an adulterous wife by her husband. In many instances she is made to endure a bodily mutilation which will, in the mind of the aggrieved husband, prevent her from ever being a temptation to other men again (Schoolcraft, "Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States", I, 236; V, 683, 684, 686; also H.H. Bancroft, "The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America", I, 514).

If, however, the wronged husband could visit swift and terrible retribution upon the adulterous wife, the latter was allowed no cause against the unfaithful husband; and this discrimination found in the practices of ancient peoples is moreover set forth in nearly all ancient codes of law.

The Laws of Manu of ancient India, for example, said: "though destitute of virtue or seeking pleasure elsewhere, or devoid of good qualities, yet a husband must be constantly worshiped as a god by a faithful wife"; on the other, hand, "if a wife, proud of the greatness of her relatives or [her own] excellence, violates the duty which she owes to her lord, the king shall cause her to be devoured by dogs in a place frequented by many." (Laws of Manu, V, 154; VIII, 371)


Criminal penalties

Most western countries have de-criminalised adultery. Adultery is not a crime in most countries of the European Union, including Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland or Sweden.

In the United States, laws vary from state to state. In those States where adultery is still on the statute books, even though they are rarely prosecuted, the penalties vary from life sentence (Michigan) [ [ Adultery could mean life, court finds ] at] , 2 years imprisonment (Pennsylvania), or a fine of $10 (Maryland). In the U.S. Military, adultery is a potential court-martial offense. [ [ Adultery in the Military ] at] The enforceability of adultery laws in the United States has been / is being questioned following Supreme Court decisions since 1965 relating to privacy and sexual intimacy of consenting adults, in cases such as "Lawrence v. Texas".

In some countries, including Korea, and Taiwan, adultery continues to be a crime, though prosecutions are very rare.

Adultery had at one time attracted severe sanctions, including the death penalty. In some places, such as Iran, the method of punishment for adultery is stoning to death. [ [ 9 Iranians convicted of adultery] .] It has been suggested that Iranian officials are avoiding imposing the penalty because of social objections. Proving adultery under Muslim law can be a very difficult task as it requires the accuser to produce four eye witnesses to the act of sexual intercourse, each of whom should have a good reputation for truthfulness and honesty. The criminal standards do not apply in the application of social and family consequences of adultery, where the standards of proof are not as exacting.

In Pakistan, adultery is a crime under the Hudood Ordinance. The Ordinance sets a maximum penalty of death, although only imprisonment and corporal punishment have ever actually been imposed. The Ordinance has been particularly controversial because it requires a woman making an accusation of rape to provide extremely strong evidence to avoid being charged with adultery herself. A conviction of a man for rape is only possible with evidence from no less than four witnesses. In recent years high-profile rape cases in Pakistan have given the Ordinance more exposure than similar laws in other countries. [ [ Hudood laws open to change in Pakistan] , July 2005] Similar laws exist in some other Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia.

In Indian law, adultery is defined as sex between a man and a woman without the consent of the woman's husband. The man is prosecutable and can be sentenced for up to 5 years (even if he himself was unmarried) whereas the married woman can not be jailed [ [ WHAT AMOUNTS TO ADULTERY ] at] . Men have called the law gender discrimination in that women cannot be prosecuted for adultery [ [ 'Adultery law must apply equally to men and women' ] at] and the National Commission of Women has criticized the British era law of being anti-feminist as it treats women as the property of their husbands and has consequentially recommended deletion of the law or reducing it to a civil offense. The Government is yet to act [ [ The Hindu : National : NCW rejects proposal to punish women for adultery ] at] . Extramarital sex without the consent of one's partner can be a valid grounds for monetary penalty on government employees, as ruled by the Central Administrative Tribunal [ [ CAT penalises cop living with lover-Delhi-Cities-The Times of India ] at] .

Other consequences

In addition, adultery has been grounds for divorce under fault-based divorce laws.

In the original Napoleonic Code, a man could ask to be divorced from his wife if she committed adultery, but the philandery of the husband was not a sufficient grounds for divorce unless he had kept his concubine in the family home.

In Canadian law, adultery is defined under the Divorce Act. Though the written definition sets it as extramarital relations with someone of the opposite sex, the Civil Marriage Act gave grounds for a British Columbia judge to strike that definition down. In a 2005 case of a woman filing for divorce, her husband had cheated on her with another man, which the judge felt was equal reasoning to dissolve the union.

Apart from criminal consequences, historically adulterers have suffered from society's disapproving attitudes toward them. The nature of these attitudes vary widely depending on local culture, religion and values, and how seriously the adulterer regards the opinions of others.


* [ Definition of Adultery] Collection of legal definitions


* Best Practices: Progressive Family Laws in Muslim Countries (August 2005} [] Dead link|date=July 2008
* Hamowy, Ronald. "Medicine and the Crimination of Sin: "Self-Abuse" in 19th Century America". pp2/3 []
* Moultrup, David J. (1990). Husbands, Wives & Lovers. New York: Guilford Press.
* Glass, S. P., & Wright, T. L. (1992). Justifications for extramarital relationships: The association between attitudes, behaviors, and gender. Journal of Sex Research, 29, 361-387.
* Jack Goody " [ A Comparative Approach to Incest and Adultery] " The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Dec., 1956), pp. 286-305 doi:10.2307/586694
* Pittman, F. (1989). Private Lies. New York: W. W. Norton Co.
* Rubin, A. M., & Adams, J. R. (1986). Outcomes of sexually open marriages. Journal of Sex Research, 22, 311-319.
* Vaughan, P. (1989). The Monogamy Myth. New York: New Market Press.
* Blow, Adrian J, Hartnett, Kelley. (Apr 2005). Infidelity in Committed Relationships I: A Methodological Review. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. [ INFIDELITY IN COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS I: A METHODOLOGICAL REVIEW | Journal of Marital and Family Therapy | Find Articles at BNET ] at
* Blow, Adrian J, Hartnett, Kelley. (Apr 2005). Infidelity in Committed Relationships II: A Substantive Review. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. [ INFIDELITY IN COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS II: A SUBSTANTIVE REVIEW | Journal of Marital and Family Therapy | Find Articles at BNET ] at

See also

* Adultery in literature
* Affair
* Cuckold
* Emotional affair
* Family therapy / Relationship counseling
* Fornication
* Honor killing
* Incidence of monogamy
* Mistress
* Open marriage
* Swinging

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • ADULTERY — (Heb. נִאוּף, ni uf; sometimes, loosely, זְנוּת, zenut; זְנוּנִים, zenunim; lit. fornication, whoredom ). Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married woman, or one engaged by payment of the brideprice, and a man other than her husband.… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Adultery — • The article considers adultery with reference only to morality Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Adultery     Adultery     † …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • adultery — adul·tery /ə dəl tə rē/ n: voluntary sexual activity (as sexual intercourse) between a married man and someone other than his wife or between a married woman and someone other than her husband; also: the crime of adultery compare fornication… …   Law dictionary

  • Adultery — A*dul ter*y, n.; pl. {Adulteries}. [L. adulterium. See {Advoutry}.] 1. The unfaithfulness of a married person to the marriage bed; sexual intercourse by a married man with another than his wife, or voluntary sexual intercourse by a married woman… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adultery — (n.) voluntary violation of the marriage bed, c.1300, avoutrie, from O.Fr. avouterie (12c.), noun of condition from avoutre, from L. adulterare to corrupt (see ADULTERATION (Cf. adulteration)). Modern spelling, with the re inserted d , is from… …   Etymology dictionary

  • adultery — adultery, fornication, incest designate forms of illicit sexual intercourse which are clearly distinguished in legal use, both civil and ecclesiastical. Adultery implies unfaithfulness to one’s spouse, and therefore can be applied only to sexual… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • adultery — [n] extramarital affair affair, carrying on*, cheating, extracurricular activity*, fling, fornication, hanky panky*, immorality, infidelity, matinee*, playing around*, relationship, thing*, two timing*; concept 633 Ant. faithfulness …   New thesaurus

  • adultery — ► NOUN ▪ voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse. DERIVATIVES adulterous adjective …   English terms dictionary

  • adultery — [ə dul′tər ē] n. pl. adulteries [L adulterium < adulter: see ADULTERATE] voluntary sexual intercourse between a married man and a woman not his wife, or between a married woman and a man not her husband: see also FORNICATION …   English World dictionary

  • adultery — /euh dul teuh ree/, n., pl. adulteries. voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her lawful spouse. [1325 75; ME adulterie < L adulterium, equiv. to adulter (see ADULTERER) + ium IUM; r. ME a(d)vouterie… …   Universalium

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