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Professor says infidelity on the rise, but people still think it's a bad thing

St. Paul -- When University of St. Thomas professor John Buri recently asked the 40 students in his Psychology of Marriage and Family class if they had ever been cheated on, about half raised their hands.

St. Paul -- When University of St. Thomas professor John Buri recently asked the 40 students in his Psychology of Marriage and Family class if they had ever been cheated on, about half raised their hands.

Buri wasn't surprised.

"From what we can tell, infidelity is on the increase," Buri said.

It's a topic of eternal and intense interest. A recent study of General Social Survey data collected from 1991 to 2006 found more younger couples -- those under age 35 -- reported they had been unfaithful (about 20 percent of men and 15 percent of women, up from about 15 percent and 12 percent, respectively).

On the other end of the life cycle, the lifetime rate of infidelity for men older than 60 increased to 28 percent in 2006, up from 20 percent in 1991. For women older than 60, the increase shot up from 5 percent in 1991 to 15 percent more recently.

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But the higher numbers don't mean infidelity is any more acceptable, said Bill Doherty, professor and former director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota.

"There's no more acceptance of it in terms of values," Doherty said. "People across the board think it's a bad thing."

But perhaps today, with the way we live, it's easier to stray.

"I don't know what people consider cheating these days," said sex columnist Jenny Block. "If you spend all day texting about how you want to do the guy sitting in the cubicle next to you, is that cheating? Or is it only cheating if you tell him you love him? If you kiss someone once, is that cheating?"

The plugged-in generation doesn't necessarily see technological advances as bad for relationships.

"For the most part, younger people will contend that the Internet, texting, instant messaging, all these things do not harm relationships, but in fact that they enhance them," Buri said.

Romance today isn't what it used to be; in fact, even that term -- "dating" -- is rather old-fashioned.

"It's less formal than it used to be," said 20-year-old Jessica Zimanske, a student in Buri's class, of her generation's way of conducting relationships. "It's more, 'Hey, do you want to hang out?' There's a lot of group stuff, a lot of Facebooking. It's less pressure, in a way, at least at the beginning of a relationship."

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But Zimanske, who said her last date was quite traditional, involving dinner at a restaurant and a walk around a lake afterward, said she takes the ideas of marriage and commitment seriously. That's why she's taking Buri's class.

"I'm pretty optimistic about marriage," she said. "I definitely believe that if you put the work into it, it can work, despite the odds."

As for older couples, the latest research doesn't mean there's a boom in cheating.

"I don't think there's any evidence that 65-year-olds are popping Viagra and going out looking to have affairs," Doherty said. "The surveys asked about affairs over a lifetime. And this generation is the product of the sexual revolution."

Even if it's happening more, though, doesn't mean it's not hurtful.

"The pain and hurt and disillusionment that comes from infidelity, that's what is underneath these figures," Doherty said.

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