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Sex and Politics: Are Powerful Men Really More Likely to Cheat?

Bill Clinton. Newt Gingrich. Eliot Spitzer. Mark Sanford. Politicians who’ve been caught with their pants down tend to have one thing in common and it’s not political philosophy or party. Overwhelmingly, the philanderers are men. But a new study suggests that the reasons they stray may have more to do with the power they wield than with their, um, masculinity.

“The likelihood [of infidelity] increases the more powerful someone is,” says study author Joris Lammers, an assistant professor of psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. The research was published in Psychological Science.

The study analyzed the results of an Internet survey of 1,561 readers of a Dutch business magazine. Fifty-eight percent of respondents held low-level non-management positions; 22% had some management responsibilities; 14% were middle managers; and 6% were top level executives.

The higher someone was in the hierarchy, the greater the chance there was that they reported having cheated on their partner or intending to do so in the future — regardless of whether they were male or female.

Moreover, the tendency to cheat was not linked to factors like taking frequent business trips or being a person who inherently tends to take risks. Rather, it was linked to confidence — and the more power men and women had, the more confident they were.

“My own research and that of my colleagues has shown that one of strongest effects of power is that it increases feelings of confidence,” says Lammers. “The feeling of decreased power leads to more of a focus on threat and danger. But power leads to this disinhibited sense that you can get what you want and should take risks to get it.” The corrupting effect of power can be seen not only in infidelity in romantic relationships, but in a greater tendency to cut corners ethically on the job as well.

So why don’t we see more high-profile scandals involving female politicians or other powerful women? Lammers argues that it’s because there are so few of them. There has yet to be a female president of the United States, and only 17 of our 100 Senators are women. Among the CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies, a measly 25 are women.

The research doesn’t answer the question of whether men seek power in order to get sex, which could also explain the gender difference in sex scandals, as well as their ubiquity.

The study is also limited by its Internet sampling and reliance on self-reported behavior and hierarchical status. Further, it doesn’t take into account other sources of power; as Christopher Ryan, a psychologist and author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, notes, a key contributor to women’s sense of power and confidence is physical beauty.

“[Comedian] Chris Rock says that a man is basically as faithful as his options allow. [The researchers] might say that this applies to women as well,” says Ryan.

Still, he cautions that there remain definite gender differences in the way men and women approach infidelity.

If you’re looking for monogamy, however, top dogs do seem to be harder to keep on the porch.

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Women in Politics Have Sex Scandals, Too

It’s a numbers game. It’s a matter of attraction. It’s being too busy with “diapers and bottles and bills and votes and markups” to “possibly think about doing anything else.” There are a number of explanations offered for why men seem to be overrepresented when it comes to sex scandals among politicians or other powerful figures. (The most obvious is they’re overrepresented, period, when it comes to political office and powerful positions.) But while our attention is turned toward Anthony Weiner, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Silvio Berlusconi, John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and whoever else is likely to apologize for or deny the next round of photographs and love children and criminal charges, let’s also take a moment to remember nine women in politics who have caused ripples with their sexual exploits.

Helen Chenoweth, Republican Congresswoman from Idaho
Her offense: After attacking her Democratic opponent by lumping him in with Bill Clinton, whose behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal had “severely damaged his ability to lead our nation, and the free world,” she admitted to a six-year affair with a married man who later worked for her congressional staff.
Her defense: “I’ve asked for God’s forgiveness, and I’ve received it.”

Iris Robinson, member of Parliament and wife of the First Minister in Northern Ireland
Her offense: Having an affair with a man forty years her junior, earning her the nickname “Celtic Cougar.”
Her defense: She cited “serious bouts of depression” and “the stress and strain of public life” when stepping down from her Parliament post following the scandal.

Victoria Woodhull, American leader of the women’s suffrage movement

Her offense: Practicing and preaching free love—and outing Henry Ward Beecher for practicing, if not preaching, it.
Her defense: Women should be allowed to do what the men do.

Aimee Semple McPherson, evangelical minister and political operative
Her offense: Soon after campaigning for William Jennings Bryan, McPherson, who founded the Foursquare church, disappeared for a month, and, according to witnesses, was spotted in many hotels with Kenneth Ormiston, a married man.
Her defense: McPherson claims she was drugged, kidnapped, and held for ransom by two people, Steve and Mexicali Rose. And during a grand jury investigation, Ormiston admitted to having an affair, but said it was with “Mrs. X,” not McPherson. (The case was eventually dropped.)

Katherine Bryson, state representative in Utah
Her offense: She was caught on camera with a lover by a surveillance camera that her husband, Kay, had set up intending, he said, to catch a thief.
Her defense: Kay abused power by using county employees to install the publicly owned equipment that did her in, Katherine said. A judge disagreed.

Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary for the U.K.
Her offense: Claiming the purchase of pornographic films on her parliamentary expenses.
Her defense: Her husband is the one who bought them; but she still resigned from office and said that she “was the one who did the wrong thing. For claiming it. For not going through the expense form closely enough.”

Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia
Her offense: Taking many lovers, elevating them to positions of power, and then casting them off, with large sums of money, when she became bored with them.
Her defense: At least I gave them parting gifts. And the horse thing’s a lie.

Edwina Currie, British member of parliament

Her offense: Carrying on an affair with former Prime Minister John Major when they were both in Margaret Thatcher’s government.
Her defense: By the time she revealed the affair, by publishing her diaries, she didn’t really need one; she was out of politics, and Major, who had made family values a central theme in his political career, suffered most of the attacks—aside from a few spectacular blows, including, from Lady Archer: “I am a little surprised, not at Mrs. Currie’s indiscretion but at a temporary lapse in John Major’s taste.”

Chu Mei-feng, councilwoman for Taipei City
Her offense: Being caught on film having sex with her married lover.
Her defense: It may not work for politics, but it sure works for entertainment.

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Gay sex video leak: new Malaysia a bit like the old one as politics returns to the gutter

Just over a year after a watershed election heralded a new era for Malaysia’s democracy, dirty politics are back with a vengeance, sex videos and all.

So serious is the fresh round of political mudslinging that it threatens to sour newly-minted alliances and chip away at the public’s restored faith in the country’s institutions, according to Malaysia political watchers.

The shock leak last week of a sex video allegedly featuring Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali and party worker Haziq Abdul Aziz, encapsulates Malaysia’s “dysfunctional” system: one that blends religious morality with modern politics.

And the fact that new video depicts two men together compounds this, said political scientist James Chin of Tasmania University’s Asia Institute.

“If the video showed a figure having sex with a woman, there would be less damage as it would be seen as ‘just’ adultery. Islamic morality has been mixed with politics here,” Chin said.

“Every Malay political leader is now forced to show he is sufficiently Muslim, or at least an Islamic champion. This has happened in neighbouring Indonesia too.”

Having a female lover in Malaysian politics is not enough to destroy you, it seems.

In 2008, Chua Soi Lek, a Chinese Malaysian politician from the state of Johor, was forced to resign from the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and government roles after a DVD of him having sex with a younger woman in a hotel room was widely circulated.

Within two years, he had reclaimed the presidency of his party.

Same-sex relations are still “taboo” in Malaysia, particularly in the Malay Muslim community, said Associate Professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi, from the University Malaya’s Institute of Malay Studies.
Ethnic Malays make up more than 65 per cent of Malaysia’s voter demographic, making them the largest and most powerful group.

They also are vital to the survival of the ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan, which has been grappling with slipping support after its perceived failure to fulfil certain key election pledges made last May.

Although Azmin has firmly the denied allegations, and his Pakatan Harapan coalition have thrown its support behind him, there were rumours that Azmin was caught up in a possible rift between current premier Mahathir Mohamad and prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim.

Mahathir’s fierce defence of Azmin has also raised eyebrows among a sceptical public who recall how during the 1990s, during his first stint as premier, Mahathir publicly denounced then-deputy Anwar after accusations of corruption and sodomy.

Charged twice with sodomy – once in 1998 and again in 2008 – Anwar received a full royal pardon last year, but speculation about his sexuality continues to pursue him.

Anwar’s first sodomy accusation, analysts say, was what set the stage for the subsequent mudslinging in Malaysian politics.

“This was a hallmark of Mahathir’s first era, and it is repeated now that he is back in power,” Awang Azman said.

While some believe that the sex videos were leaked by Anwar’s camp in an attempt to scupper Azmin’s chances of politically leapfrogging him – a claim he has vehemently denied – others think that Mahathir, 93, is gunning to get rid of both Anwar and Azmin, who are president and deputy president of the People’s Justice Party (PKR) respectively.

Anwar and Azmin have not been seen in public together since the video, allegedly recorded May 11, was leaked last Tuesday.

The prime minister’s appointment of one of Anwar’s fiercest critics, legal activist Latheefa Koya, to the role of Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief has also raised speculation that the administration was attempting to keep Anwar, who is slated to take on premiership before 2023, in check.

In a confession uploaded to Facebook, Haziq called on MACC to investigate Azmin as an “unfit” leader.

Latheefa recused herself from any investigative proceedings, leading critics to suggest she had swiftly become a “lame duck” appointment.

“As a former PKR member, she recused herself to avoid a conflict of interest. But it throws MACC’s independence into question by creating the perception that she is in Azmin’s camp,” Awang Azman said.

The independence of public institutions is another issue that Malaysian leaders have grappled with, Awang Azman said.

The latest sex video has thrown the spotlight on this issue, despite carefully calibrated political appointments of top civil servants to win public confidence.

Mahathir’s insistence that the videos are faked also “creates a dilemma with the police and investigating parties”.

“He should be neutral. The executive should not be accused of interference,” Awang Azman said.

And Malaysia can expect more scandals like it, both real and faked, despite promises of a “New Malaysia” after Pakatan Harapan’s decisive electoral victory last year.

“With recent technological advancements, things like deepfakes, I will not be surprised if this becomes a regular thing once every few years,” Chin said

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