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How infidelity has become accepted and even expected in Russia.

Wandering spouses have become a common trope for the women of Moscow. “Men’s environment here pushes them towards cheating,” Tanya told me, adding that, these days, a boys’ night out in Russia often involves prostitutes. Tanya and her friends are young, educated, upper-middle-class Muscovites, but talk to any woman in Moscow, and, regardless of age, education, or income level, she’ll have a story of anything from petty infidelity to a parallel family that has existed for decades. Infidelity in Moscow has become “a way of life,” as another friend of mine put it—accepted and even expected.

This is quite a shift, given that 20 years ago an affair was considered a career-wrecking scandal. But by 1998, a study showed that Russian men and women led their peers in 24 other countries in their willingness to engage in and approve of extramarital affairs. Since then, these attitudes have taken hold more deeply after a prolonged consumer boom that encourages Russians to indulge their whims and desires. What does this culture of infidelity look like, and what are the costs?

Any explanation begins with a basic cultural difference. When Christianity arrived here, in the 10th century, it landed in a peasant, agrarian culture that treated sex as a natural barnyard phenomenon. Russia’s expanse was notoriously hard for the already disorganized church to govern, and so, when it came to sex, a sort of dichotomy of word and deed persisted well into the 19th century, more than in the West. Then came the Bolshevik Revolution, which rooted out the church and replaced it with a prudish, asexual model for behavior. Sex, once viewed as natural if vaguely sinful, ceased to exist altogether: “There is no sex in the Soviet Union,” the saying went. Parents stopped having the birds-and-bees talk with their children, and men could be dragged in front of their local Party Committee or labor union and made to suffer professionally for infidelity.

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