Political Sex Scandals: Why Do They Happen?

Power Could be Major Reason for Infidelities

Political sex scandals have been occurring for so long that it is imbedded into our cultural norms. They are so imbedded that we have learned to accept and even praise leaders who have been unfaithful. For example, the continuously growing population of such Presidents as John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton show the public’s acceptance of sex scandals.

New Jersey Assemblyman Joe Cryan has recently been accused  of sending sexually explicit e-mails to former lobbyist Karen Golding. The e-mails are estimated to be nine to ten years old and sent during a time when both Cryan and Golding were single adults. These charges are coming only months after Senator Robert Menendez weas falsely accused of paying for underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. However, this trend of sexual affairs is nothing new to the world of politics.

When you think about the young, charming, handsome President John F. Kennedy, the thought of his affairs comes to mind. Perhaps the most famous affair is the one that was never proven, but rumored to occur between the President and actress Marilyn Monroe. The rumors of the affair sparked fire after the young actress famously sang to the President on his birthday.  While it is the most famous affair President Kennedy was involved in, it certainly was not his only one. 

Just last January, there was a new book published about the affair a young White House intern had with President John F. Kennedy. The book is written almost 50 years after the affair occurred, yet is still a predominant subject. Written by the once-intern Mimi Alford, Once Upon a Secret Affair with John F. Kennedy and its Aftermath described the 18-month affair between the two. The affair started in the summer of 1962 shortly after she had been offered an internship at the White House. She goes into detail of how the President shortly pursued their relationship, which she described as an unromantic affair.

Alford is quoted in an ABC News article describing the affair, “It wasn’t a romantic affair. I don’t really remember the president ever kissing me and it makes me sad. I don’t remember really kissing him either and I think that I didn’t, I certainly didn’t learn how to have a real relationship through that relationship.”

If it is not about romance, what is it that makes politicians cheat? Junior psychology major Jennifer Pacheco describes political personalities who have tendencies of cheating. “Politicians who feel ‘above the law’ can have narcissistic personality traits that affect the way they act and think about themselves and others. Those who have narcissistic personality disorder lack empathy for others and have a strong need for admiration, whether by the public, a loving partner, or a secret mistress.”

Pacheco continues, “They believe that they are unique and above their competition, and such delusional thoughts about their status can result in rebellious behavior. After reaching such a height of success, they feel above societal norms, such as remaining faithful to a partner.”

Dr. Gary Lewandowski, chair of the Psychology Department at the University, claims that it has more to do with power.

“Research has shown that people who are in power do engage in more infidelity. Importantly, this effect is evident for both men and women. Many of the examples of politicians who cheat are men, but men still hold more of those positions. As a result of having power, people have more opportunity to encounter potential alternative romantic partners, and as perceived alternatives increase, commitment decreases,” said Lewandowski.

Sociology professor Alan Foster agrees, power is what the affairs are all about. “It’s all about the acquisitions of power, and then when power is achieved – in business, politics, religion, anything – it’s taken as a right that you can do whatever it is you want to do – usually with those in a more subordinate position and those close to you.”

Perhaps the most famous political sex scandal would be the one between President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the affair that is rumored to lead to the President’s impeachment. Clinton’s affair with the young intern was publicized after accusations were pressed regarding another sex scandal, for which the President was being sued.

Paula Jones, a former employee for President Clinton when he was Governor of Arkansas, sued the President for sexual harassment charges. While pressing charges, Jones called upon a young intern, Lewinsky, to plead guilty of having her affair with Clinton, in order to show that he is an unfaithful husband and to give evidence of extra martial affairs. Lewinsky signed legal papers stating the affair never occurred, which did not help Jones’ case that was eventually dropped on failure to provide any damages that have occurred to her.

Lewinsky’s lie came out to the public when her former coworker and friend Linda Tripp turned in taped phone conversations between Lewinsky and herself discussing the affairs to a member of the Independent Counsel, Kenneth Star, who was investigating President Clinton for multiple matters. Lewinsky and the President’s legal lies would eventually push the limit for the impeachment case built up against Clinton leading to his impeachment.

The Lewinsky scandal stuck with Clinton through the years and has led to the running jokes about his cheating affairs in society. The affairs of political figures have seemed to always be a fascination with the public; especially after the Lewinsky scandal was revealed.

According to Foster, “Nothing seems to fascinate people more than to build certain men and women up, give them power, put them on pedestals, and then enjoy it tremendously when they screw up. Tie in a little sex, and that just makes things a little more titillating… Perhaps it goes back to our Puritan background and how basically – we, as a society, seem to be very uncomfortable about sex.”

Lewandowski agrees the public has a certain fascination with the sex lives of famous people. “I think a lot of the fascination has to do with cheating being such a fundamental violation of exclusivity, which most people consider a central feature of a loving relationship.”

The fascination will only continue through the years, as more books are published, shows are depicted, and movies are released. Sex and politics are forever entangled in our culture, especially after the affairs of Kennedy and Clinton.