France is the host of many tourists’ romantic, cliché fantasies, cementing it as one of the most popular destinations in Europe. Many travel far and wide to catch a glimpse of its world-famous art, dreamy architecture, and oh-so-sweet pastries.
As for the French people, they’re infamously known for being passionate, charming and impressively well-dressed individuals that simply remind us of fictional characters straight out of a romance novel.
Despite all of this being very much visible to every visitor’s naked eye, what isn’t quite as visible to many is the not-so-sweet reality that these romantically idolised people are also statistically the most unfaithful when it comes to relationships.
How could this be the case for a country that is so heavily associated with love, that even its loving phrase “Je t’aime” almost never requires translation, as it’s practically considered universal common knowledge?
Quantifying Infidelity in France
Well, first let’s get one thing straight – the numbers don’t lie. According to Statista, in 2022 almost half of French men (46%) and 38% of French women had already cheated on their partners. In 2014, French men were feeling particularly more adventurous with a dramatic 55% answering that they had been unfaithful, a gruesome year for many.
Now it doesn’t end there, the Pew Research Center conducted a global survey asking whether married people found having an affair morally “unacceptable”. They found that France scored the lowest out of all 39 nations and was the only country where fewer than half of respondents found it to be unacceptable. Matter of fact, 4 in 10 said it wasn’t a moral issue at all.
For the record, there was virtually no gender gap on this issue, with only 45% of French men and only 50% of women saying affairs are unacceptable.
Infidelity in politics
What’s interesting to note is that cheating in France hasn’t necessarily been a well-hidden secret. In 2014 (coincidentally the year infidelity spiked dramatically in France, as stated previously), details about French President Francois Hollande’s alleged affair were made public and what most outsiders would consider to be a serious threat to his reputation and career, didn’t seem too serious to the French. Perhaps Hollande was even the inspiration behind the infidelity spike that year!
A survey by the French Institute of Public Opinion found that 77% of the French considered it a private affair that concerned only the president, while only 23% thought it was a matter of public concern.
Hollande isn’t the only French leader known to have had an affair. Francois Mitterrand had a long-running affair with a woman who attended his funeral with the daughter that he fathered. In 1899, President Felix Faure died in the Elysse Palace in the arms of his mistress. Emperor Napoleon, was unfaithful to his wife Josephine, engaging in a long line of mistresses.
The French government supports cheating date sites
Following the 2014 infidelity party, a French Catholics association sued Black Devine, the publishers for extra-marital affairs dating site Gleeden, over their provocative adverts that promoted its services for those wanting to cheat.
“Being faithful to two men means you are twice as faithful” read one of the adverts amongst public transport stops and stations, and later banned by the offended mayors of some towns in France.
“Contrary to anti-depressants a lover costs the social security system nothing,” read another one of the bus stops adverts for the site and “Fancy adultery. It’s your turn to play.”
According to the association’s lawyer Henri De Beauregard, a list of tips on how to cheat without your partner finding out was also on the site.
The association stated the adverts were “publicly promoting infidelity and cheating” and a clear insolence towards the French civil code, which covers marriage, and stipulates “mutual respect, fidelity, help and assistance between spouses.”
A court in Paris threw out this complaint, their reason being that infidelity cannot be deemed an automatic legal ground for divorce. Further explaining that one member of the couple may excuse the infidelity of the other. In other words, the French government believes infidelity is something married couples can move past or live with. Yikes!
As a result, the Catholic association was ordered to pay 2,000 euros to cover legal costs to Black Devine and the site publishers celebrated, calling it a “victory for freedom of expression”.
Politics this, court cases that, okay whatever. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty minds of the French
First and foremost, it’s important to clarify that French culture doesn’t necessarily encourage infidelity, even if it’s a common occurrence. After all, they’re only human and they’re not any more immune to heartbreak and feelings of betrayal than the rest of us are.
The French are very much sexually liberated people who believe in the importance of sensuality and pleasures. Daily life in France involves indulging in the enjoyment of senses whether this is with food, art, social activity or sex. There is certainly no taboo around casual sex or having multiple sexual partners, especially within the busy capital, Paris. Sex is spoken about extremely casually and is very important for all genders and age groups over the age of 18. There certainly is no shame or stigma around open relationships or having multiple sexual partners.
This comes as no surprise seeing as France was the home of many of the world's most elite brothels and the birthplace for seductive nude dancing performed to this very day at Paris' world-famous Moulin Rouge. If anyone can make erotic dancing nothing but classy and chic, it's the French!
The French are also generally open-minded about nudism, there are fewer boundaries around nudity when raising children. Many of the French received open and honest sexual education from their parents at a very young age, as this is something that is completely accepted and viewed as normal. Sexual expression in general is taught to younger ones as a part of being human and a form of art, yet in some areas of American culture (and others) parents teach purity and describe sex in a more conservative, baby-making manner.
Upon interacting with Parisian locals, it seems as though many French people have a completely different perspective on human connection compared to American and other anglophone cultures and therefore, process cheating and its impact very differently.
They consider human beings powerless against the nature of emotions, as something we are simply incapable of controlling. It is commonly said that falling for another person can happen to absolutely anyone, even if their relationship is perfectly happy and healthy.
In American culture, cheating is viewed as a disturbing trait of someone’s persona and therefore their entire character is immediately villainized. If someone cheated on their spouse, for the most part, their dignity and trustworthiness in all areas of their life will then be questioned. Whereas in France, well, you’re a human with emotions and needs and, these are simply too important to be supressed.
Typically, in anglophone culture, there is a strict social expectation on resisting temptations, and if one cannot supress these temptations then in what other areas of life will they fail to comply with? What does this mean for their ability to follow other moral rules? Well in passionate France, emotional connection and sexual desire is sometimes seen as an exception to the rule, clearly.
So, what can we take from this? Indeed, the French are passionate and expert lovers, but could it be possible for one to be too passionate, with perhaps a little too much love to give? So much so that the only possible solution would be to share it with others? How generous! Cue “Love is a Battlefield” by Pat Benatar.
Not only that, but the French are also very polite people. They are less likely to comment on the personal lives of others, even if they disagree with their actions. This was clearly seen in Hollande’s case, where most of the population was more offended that the affair was publicized rather than the fact that it happened at all. Perhaps less social repercussion and less judgment from others makes cheating a little less challenging.
We can compare this to the outrage that still exists to this day regarding UK King Charles’ affair during his marriage with his late wife Princess Diana, internet memes and videos insulting the King still circulate the internet and are never-ending. In anglophone culture, one can expect a significant amount of scrutiny from others after having an affair.
But don’t worry, there’s still hope!
Of course, this isn’t to say that every French person is unfaithful and/or untrustworthy, and of course there are many French people who disagree with infidelity, but overall cheating is a little more accepted in the French community, compared to others. This is a sad statistical fact, giving expats with monogamous preferences potentially one of the cruellest culture shocks yet.
Dating in France is one enormously complex map to navigate fuelled by passion and movie-scene-like scenarios. Beneath the steamy and sensual surface, it isn’t always for the faint-hearted and as fast as the fire may ignite, it can burn out just as quickly.
However, this isn’t the end all be all for singles in France. Just like the rest of the world, there are most definitely many in France who are looking for monogamous romance. Those romantic French love stories you may have read about or watched in a film are still very much possible. It’s important to not let this information discourage or dishearten one, but instead, teach singles in the modern dating world the importance of communication and expressing our needs, wants, and personal boundaries. If you've been betrayed by a lover, wipe your tears and move on because there is someone else out there for everyone, even in the tumultuous, but beautiful France.
Edited by: Yasmin Hailes
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1 month ago by Shawn
Great article! You seem to be very knowledgable about French culture. I always thought that francophones viewed emotions and social relationships differently from anglophones but I couldn't really describe it well. Your article really sheds a lot of light on this topic. Thank!
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