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Sexcapades at City Hall: Politicians and Bad Sexual Behavior

What's going on with some politicians and their brazen sexual behavior?

US Presidential Candidate Gary Hart with Donna Rice

US Presidential Candidate Gary Hart with Donna Rice

Anyone watching the news this last week got treated to the full monty of politics and sex with some reporters tittering about electronic flashing by New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner and others shaking their heads in disbelief at the brazen sexual predation of San Diego mayor Bob Filner.

Weiner admits to having inappropriate online relationships with several women (i.e., sexting or sending sexually explicit messages or photos between mobile phones), while Filner is voluntarily entering behavioral counseling after a number of women, including a retired Navy admiral and a college dean, accused him of groping and making other unwanted sexual advances toward them.

Weiner and Filner are not alone. A very small sampling of other “top” political sex scandals (here and here) includes US politicians Mark Sanford (South Carolina Governor), John Ensign (US Senator from Nevada), David Vitter (US Senator from Louisiana), Kwame Kilpatrick (Mayor of Detroit), Larry Craig (US Senator from Idaho), Barney Frank (US Representative from Massachusetts), Bill Clinton (US President), Gary Hart (US Senator from Colorado and presidential candidate), Eliot Spitzer (New York Governor), John Edwards (US Senator and presidential candidate) and foreign politicians John Profumo (UK Prime Minister), Jeremy Thorpe (British Liberal Party leader), and Silvio Berlusconi (Italian Prime Minister).

US President Bill Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky

US President Bill Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky


According to evolutionary theory, individuals are driven to maximize their lifetime reproductive success, which they do by maximizing the number of genes they pass into the population’s pool of genes. Sexual Strategies Theory, which is derived from evolutionary theory, suggests men and women pursue different sexual strategies because of the different reproductive challenges they face.

It comes down to parental investment in offspring that result from mating. Men’s contribution is quantified by the minutes-long act of sexual intercourse. Women’s contribution, on the other hand, includes the nine-month gestation period then years of child rearing that follow.

In simple terms, men, because of their low parental investment, seek to maximize their number of mates. Women, on the other hand, because of their high parental investment, seek to maximize the “quality” of their mates in terms of resources for survival a mate offers to them and their children after mating (e.g., food, shelter, and protection) and the genetic value of the mate (e.g., physical attractiveness, good health, and intelligence).

Research has shown that women’s desire for “quality” mates translates into a preference for men with expendable resources, elevated financial capacity, ambition, and industriousness, all of which are typically characteristic of men with high social status and greater age.

And despite flagging public opinion of politicians in general, these qualities are also characteristic of many professional politicians. Individual politicians are often considered high status based on their greater than average levels of education (about 70% holding advanced degrees versus 10% of typical Americans), income (members of Congress making $174,000 or about 3.4 times more than the average full-time US worker), age (about 60 versus 37), and, because of media coverage, fame.

Former Governor Mark Sanford with Maria Belen

Former Governor Mark Sanford with Maria Belen


Evolutionary theory, then, suggests these men have traits that make them highly desirable as mates. And being driven by the desire to maximize their reproductive success, some of the morally weaker ones yield to the increased access they have to mating opportunities as a result of their desirability.

Be careful if you turn on your TV anytime soon. It’s likely there’s no end to this in sight.

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