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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.
The application of the term to the act appears to arise from the idea that "criminal intercourse with a married woman ...
Adultery involving a married woman and a man other than her husband was considered a very serious crime.
In 1707, English Lord Chief Justice John Holt stated that a man having sexual relations with another man's wife was "the highest invasion of property" and claimed, in regard to the aggrieved husband, that "a man cannot receive a higher provocation" (in a case of murder or manslaughter). 1 (1751), also equated adultery to theft writing that, "adultery is, after homicide, the most punishable of all crimes, because it is the most cruel of all thefts, and an outrage capable of inciting murders and the most deplorable excesses." Legal definitions of adultery vary.
In countries where adultery is a criminal offense, punishments range from fines to caning and even capital punishment.
Since the 20th century, criminal laws against adultery have become controversial, with international organizations calling for their abolition, especially in the light of several high-profile stoning cases that have occurred in some countries.In most Western countries, adultery itself is no longer a criminal offense, but may still have legal consequences, particularly in divorce cases.