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Joshua Kendall


Sex Addiction and the Alpha Male: A Biographer's Perspective

For super-achievers, compulsive hanky panky is often part of the package.

Three years ago, when a dozen women went public about their trysts with the then married Tiger Woods—the golfer attempting to win his 15th major title at this week-end’s US Open—most commentators were shocked. “How could such a disciplined athlete be so undisciplined in his personal life?” went the common refrain. But sexual compulsivity among alpha males, as I learned while writing my latest book, America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy that Built a Nation (due out on June 25th), is not uncommon. As psychoanalyst Michael Maccoby, head of the Washington, DC-based consulting firm, The Maccoby Group, told me, obsessive super-achievers “are often like rabbits.”

The archetypal alpha male, as I show in my profiles of several American icons including librarian Melvil Dewey, scientist Alfred Kinsey, aviator Charles Lindbergh and baseball slugger Ted Williams, is the obsessive. While these control freaks tend to love rules, order, lists and schedules and to possess a preternatural ability to focus on their craft—say, swinging a bat in the case of the former Red Sox star who was the last batter to hit .400—in other areas of their life, they can be remarkably undisciplined. Ted Williams was even two different people on the baseball diamond. In the outfield, as opposed to the batter box, he looked “like a tired and slightly bored businessman,” as Time reported in a 1950 cover story. In fact, early in his career, Williams would infuriate his managers by turning his back to home plate and taking phantom swings during games.

As a boy growing up in San Diego in the 1920s, Williams was neglected by both his parents; his father and mother couldn’t stand each other, and neither spent much time at home.. His mother was a Salvation Army nut who devoted her life to saving the local drunks and prostitutes. His father could well have used some of her ministrations, as his battle with the bottle doomed his own career as a photographer. To navigate his way through this interpersonal chaos, their first-born son bonded with his bat. Like Linus in the Peanuts comic strip, who was forever tethered to his blanket, the future Hall of Famer, often turned to lumber for comfort. He and his bat were inseparable; in high school, he even brought it to class. Of his childhood, he later remarked, “When I wasn’t eating or sleeping, I was practicing swinging.” The young Williams never learned to connect with anything but his with pitches over the plate. A shy loner, Williams didn’t go out on any dates in high school. After he became a baseball star, this John Wayne look-alike had no shortage of female admirers. But he also had no idea how to build a real relationship with any of them. His three marriages were all disasters. For example, his second wife, the statuesque blond Lee Howard, threw him out after a couple of years. When asked by the judge at the divorce hearing whether there was any chance of reconciling with her husband who was constantly flying off the handle, the startled former model responded, “Are you kidding?” For most of his life, Williams was a swinging bachelor who would put the room number of the Boston hotel where he lived next to his signature on the baseballs that he signed for nubile women.

Like Williams and other obsessives, Charles Lindbergh was much more connected to things than to people. His parents also were always fighting, and as a boy, the Lone Eagle’s closest ties were to his vast collections—his coins, stones, turtles, cigarette cards, stamps, tin cans and burned out electric-light bulbs. As I report both in my book and in a recent story for The Daily Beast (, the love of his life was not a woman, but an object—the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane that took him on his record-setting trip across the Atlantic. This sex addict was the Tiger Woods of his day. Besides his wife, the writer Anne Lindbergh, the aviator had three steady German mistresses (two of them were sisters), with whom he fathered seven children. And he also squeezed in his fun, as he simultaneously pursued flings with other women all over the world.

To point out this pattern of reckless and out-of-control sexual behavior in super-achievers is not to justify or excuse the callous manner in which they can treat others. Rather it is an attempt to add to our understanding of what makes them tick. To achieve their lofty goals, obsessives often end up sacrificing everything else. As Ted Williams once put it, “I mean hitting was so important to me, consumed so much of my desire, was so much more exciting to me that I tended to let other things go.”