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The application of the term to the act appears to arise from the idea that "criminal intercourse with a married woman ...
tended to adulterate the issue [children] of an innocent husband ...
Some adultery laws differentiate based on the sex of the participants, and as a result such laws are often seen as discriminatory, and in some jurisdictions they have been struck down by courts, usually on the basis that they discriminated against women.
Adultery refers to sexual relations which are not officially legitimized; for example it does not refer to having sexual intercourse with multiple partners in the case of polygamy (when a man is married to more than one wife at a time, called polygyny; or when a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, called polyandry).
Although the legal definition of adultery differs in nearly every legal system, the common theme is sexual relations outside of marriage, in one form or another.
Traditionally, many cultures, particularly Latin American ones, had strong double standards regarding male and female adultery, with the latter being seen as a much more serious violation.
A single act of sexual intercourse is generally sufficient to constitute adultery, and a more long-term sexual relationship is sometimes referred to as an affair.