Political sex scandals come in all varieties. Some involve Democrats, and some implicate Republicans. Though most feature consenting adults, the exploitation of minors is not unknown. Neither heterosexuals nor homosexuals are immune. Virtually all these episodes, however, have one thing in common: The politician is a man.
The list of male officeholders who have gotten tangled in embarrassing shenanigans is long and colorful — including Rep. Wilbur Mills, who consorted with a stripper known as the "Argentine Firecracker," Sen. Bob Packwood, who had a habit of kissing women without their consent, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a serial groper, and Bill Clinton.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who has been accused of mishandling the Mark Foley case, should have known the perils of unconstrained libidos on Capitol Hill. He got his job only after predecessor Bob Livingston was caught cheating on his wife.
And one thing any speaker should know is that the next sex scandal is a matter of when, not if. I could fill up the rest of this column with the exploits of congressmen who had trouble keeping their pants on.
But not congresswomen. I tried to find examples of female politicians ensnared in such sordid doings, and came up with only one — in Taiwan. Over the last 30 years, the number of women in Congress has quadrupled, and they now make up one of every six members. But though they do their share of the legislative work, they fall terribly short when it comes to bedroom escapades.
The closest recent thing I could come to a woman politician involved in a sex scandal is Jeanine Pirro — whose campaign for New York attorney general is in trouble because she reportedly had her husband’s phone bugged. What’s the sex angle? She suspected he was having an affair.
It used to be assumed that once women gained a measure of parity in elective office, they would fall prey to the same temptations as men — bribery, dirty campaign tactics, delusions of grandeur and jumping into bed with hot subordinates. But while they may compete on the first three, they have failed to break the male monopoly on illicit liaisons.
Why is that? For an answer, I called Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco and author of the new book "The Female Brain," which addresses the biological differences between the minds of men and women. She sounds completely unsurprised that male politicians are far more prone to tripping over their zippers.
"On average, males end up with twice as many cells in the area of the brain for sexual pursuit," she says. Females, her research indicates, devote less of their brain space to getting into other people’s pants, and spend far less time fantasizing about sex. It’s no accident that guys account for the vast majority of pornography consumers and strip-joint patrons.
Females also have plenty of interest in sex, but because of different brain structure and different hormones, they generally use different strategies to get it — inviting attention by enhancing their appearance, for example, instead of relentlessly hitting on potential partners. Says Brizendine, "It’s the pursuit that gets males in trouble."
That’s easy to see. Males find the same hormones that make them frisky can also lead them into sleazy or criminal behavior. Married men, Brizendine says, are nearly twice as likely to have affairs as married women, and males account for some 90 percent of the pedophiles in prison.
Guys also seem more inclined to use positions of authority to gain sexual favors — which can be a fatal temptation for some congressmen. It’s true that we occasionally hear lurid tales of female schoolteachers seducing underage boys. "Those become major stories because they’re so rare," says Brizendine.
The obvious conclusion is that any organization that is predominantly male is doomed to be embarrassed periodically by some lunkheaded horndog. But no law says Congress has to be predominantly male. Nowadays, Brizendine points out, women make up a majority of college graduates and outnumber men in law schools and most other graduate programs.
She sees nothing in the female psyche that would steer them away from elective office. Instead of the current male domination of Congress, she says, "I wouldn’t be surprised to see 50-50 or even 60-40 female-to-male someday."
The comic strip "Sylvia" once gave a synopsis of a world without men: "No crime and lots of happy, fat women." But anyone who relishes a good congressional sex scandal would be very bored.
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