Is the Czech Republic a nation of cheats? It seems like a very strong generalization, but it is one which I’ve heard offered by a number of foreigners living here. Seemingly, by Anglo-American standards, Czech people are more accepting of extramarital affairs. But casual observations are not hard evidence.
Affairs of State
Judging by popular reactions to the infidelity or supposed infidelity of public figures, the Czech electorate doesn’t seem too bothered by the sex lives of politicians. I suppose it could be argued that there are other things for the people to worry about.
Even if that is the case, the affairs of Topolánek and Paroubek haven’t significantly discredited them in the eyes of the public or the media. The former president Václav Klaus was photographed leaving a hotel with a young woman, and while the photos were certainly fodder for the tabloids, it didn’t seem to damage his approval rating. Apart from allegedly accepting bribes, David Rath lived openly with his wife and lover.
The late Václav Havel was also known to have had affairs, and his first wife Olga also had an extramarital relationship. These facts have done little to tarnish their popular image. Does that tolerance for the affairs of public figures extend to people’s personal lives?
The Broad Picture
Dr. Petr Weiss is one of the Czech Republic’s leading sexologists. Trained as a clinical psychologist, he now works in the Sexology Institute at the General Faculty Hospital in Prague 2.
Since 1993, a survey has been conducted into the sexual behavior and opinions of Czech men and women every five years. The most recent one was from 2008, and it surveyed 2000 men and women. Infidelity was one of the topics covered, and the results tend to confirm the overall picture of tolerance regarding infidelity.
Of the women surveyed:
• 28% were single;
• 48% were married and hadn’t committed adultery and,
• 24% were married and had admitted to being unfaithful.
For the Czech men from the sample:
• 34% were single;
• 30% were married and hadn’t committed adultery and,
• 33% were married and admitted to cheating.
If we disregard the single people, it means that about half the married men and a third of the married women admitted to some form of infidelity.
The type of infidelity men and women engage in is slightly different. The men surveyed showed more of a tendency to have casual affairs – 62% of those who admitted to being unfaithful admitted this. For women it was 44%. Women showed a higher tendency to have affairs with acquaintances – 38% admitted this was the case, while among men the rate was 15%. When it came to engaging both in casual liaisons and with acquaintances, the numbers were quite similar: 18% of women and 25% of men.
“In all areas to do with sex, Czechs are very tolerant,” Dr. Weiss said. This evaluation is further reflected in national opinions about infidelity. From the same group surveyed about rates of infidelity, the following opinions were founds.
• 38% consider it morally unacceptable;
• 41% don’t condemn but don’t pursue extramarital relationships and,
• 21% consider it natural.
• 21% consider it morally unacceptable;
• 38% don’t condemn but don’t pursue extramarital relationships and,
• 41% think it’s natural.
By way of explanation, Dr Weiss said, “Liberalism and tolerance in the area of sexual issues for the Czech population is explained, above all, by the fact that Czechs as a nation are very atheistic.”
Religion is identified by sexologists as one of the main restrictive factors in attitudes to sex. With a large majority not subscribing to any faith, it stands to reason that attitudes toward sex, including infidelity, are less conservative.
That tolerance can even extend to advice for women who are seeing married men. The web-magazine Femina.cz ran an article (in Czech) in 2010 offering some quite cool-headed advice to a woman who is in such a relationship.
The article opens by saying, “The most sensible rule is: don’t take a man with a ring,” but then goes on to say the readers have to admit to the reality: “good sense and love don’t go together.”
The editor of the website, Petra Martišková, explained that the article was published because of experiences of readers, editors and friends.
“We try to publish articles, which our readers have experience with. In some way it concerns them, and they don’t have anyone to open up to,” Martišková said.
At the time of publication, the article was popular, though it might be too much to see it as representative. The article did appear on the first page of a search of “mimomanželský vztah” (extramarital relations). Similar topics tend to appear with less candor in mainstream English language magazines.
Influence of the Past
Reading the works of Milan Kundera, Ivan Klíma, and Josef Škvorecký can give the impression that infidelity was a part of the former regime. The film Loves of a Blonde by Miloš Forman and the scene from the popular Ecce home Homolka suggest a more permissive attitude toward affairs. However, the broader picture is hard to come by.
“We don’t have a comparison of what happened during communism because no surveys were done about sexual behavior.”
While no studies of the infidelity in the era exist, Weiss offered a speculative answer. The widespread ownership of cottages, combined with drinking, and the fact the state lets people get on with their lives in a relatively free way, would allow for extramarital affairs.
“It’s possible, as part of this flight from reality, that sex including non-marital sex served as a [way of letting off steam], who weren’t able to [do so] in other areas,” he said. The comment certainly puts the cottage tradition in a new light.
Tolerance regarding infidelity doesn’t necessarily equate to open acceptance, especially where one’s spouse is concerned. While Czech people may not judge their political leaders on their indiscretions and the majority doesn’t regard infidelity as immoral, it is still a cause of divorce.
According to 2012 figures (in Czech), 28,100 marriages ended in the Czech Republic during the year. Infidelity was the most often concrete reason for 1,072 men and 697 women. However, “irreconcilable differences” represented 89% of cases.
“I would advise discretion with infidelity…even in the case of [a] so-called open marriage, because the one who tells his/her partner that they have been unfaithful, so they can have a good feeling of being honest…shifts the burden of doubts and uncertainties [onto his partner]. No infidelity can benefit a marriage,” Dr. Weiss said.
I started by mentioning the article was motivated by a perception that infidelity was more tolerated in the Czech Republic. This doesn’t mean the rates are so low in the English speaking world.
An article from The New York Times shows that infidelity rates in the US are growing. While those surveyed show rates about half that of the Czech population, it isn’t exactly marginal behavior. Or maybe Czechs are just more honest.