How many couples in Vietnam engage in dalliances outside of their relationships? And is it more or less prevalent than people think? A new survey from global market research and consulting firm Epinion has turned up some interesting results. By Brett Davis. Photo by Vinh Dao.

There have always been couples, and there have always been those that look for something outside of that pairing. Infidelity is not a thing that is much discussed, for obvious reasons. So to gauge the state of affairs when it comes to adultery poses something of a challenge.

Epinion surveyed 1,031 Vietnamese people in major cities across the country, with the sample group made up of roughly half males and females. They were predominantly between the ages of 18 and 55, with two-thirds holding a tertiary education degree. There was also a mix of married and divorced people as well as singles in the survey group.

The challenge was, particularly in a society so famously reticent to talk about matters of sex let alone infidelity, how to make people feel comfortable enough to give truthful answers.

Research Director Tran Lien Phuong explained that Epinion decided to conduct an online survey to overcome this issue. “For such a sensitive topic, because talking about sex or sexual relationships is still a taboo in Vietnam, in most circumstances respondents won’t reveal the truth if there are others around them,” she says. “Hence an online approach is much better for us to obtain the real picture.”

People were first asked their thoughts on what constituted infidelity. Forty-seven percent said having adulterous thoughts about another was as bad as a physical indiscretion, while another 29 percent said it was worse. When broken down by gender, more than half of all women believed they were equally bad while a quarter thought adulterous thoughts were worse.

Interestingly, 26 percent of respondents said they did not really consider visiting massage or karaoke places an infidelity, while almost half said it really depended on how often one used these services.

When asked the big question – had they ever had an affair – 29 percent of all respondents admitted they had done so. This translates to 40 percent of the men and 19 percent of the women in the 1,031 members of the survey group.

Have almost a third of people in Vietnam strayed from their partner at one time or another? There is actually a distinct possibility that it is more because, as Research Director Tran points out, people tend to ‘underclaim’ in these surveys.

“My point is, the way one claims to behave may not reflect his or her actual behaviour, so we need to look at their perception to measure their ‘tendency’ rather than obtaining statistics on claims,” she says.

“One important thing is if 30 percent of the total claimed to have had an affair already, this number should be much higher amongst the married target group. So it’s quite alarming to think at least one out of two people you may meet somewhere has not been loyal to his or her partner.”

This discrepancy between reported behaviour and perception is illustrated by the response to the question of what percentage of people in Vietnam the survey group thought had been unfaithful. More than 60 percent thought that more than half of all people had been unfaithful, with 20 percent estimating it was actually as high as between 60 and 70 percent of all people.

For those that did report having an affair, a new acquaintance was the most common other party (47 percent) followed by an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend (31 percent). These hook-ups were most likely to occur at a social gathering of some kind, such as a party, where alcohol was present (37 percent) or through social media networks (29 percent).

The last figure is interesting as it would seem to reflect the increasing use of technology and social media sites in Vietnam, and the increasing popularity of apps such as Tinder and WeChat, as well as home-grown apps like OakClub and Paktor.

The survey also indicates that when people do stray it is limited and short-lived, with two-thirds reporting to have been unfaithful three times or less (with about half only once) in their lives and more than half saying it was a one-night fling.

So, why do people engage in these liaisons? Perhaps unsurprisingly, looking for a new experience or feeling was the most common reason for both men (66 percent) and women (45 percent). The rest of the survey group was split fairly evenly among a host of other reasons, with the only other significant result being the 28 percent of women who said it was because their husband or partner didn’t care about them emotionally. Only nine percent of men gave this reason.

It is a risky game, however, with the vast majority of respondents saying their greatest fear if they were discovered was the loss of their family and the social stigma associated with it. Most also said if they were discovered they would cease their affair immediately and seek forgiveness.