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Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009

Sex, Lies and Republicans

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Why do Republican politicians engage in extramarital and gay affairs after they say they are Christian [and] pro-family values?

Mark Sanford. Larry Craig. Mark Foley. Bob Allen. Michael Duvall. John Ensign. And the list goes on—Republican politicians who say one thing about marriage and homosexuality, but do quite another. Since the never-ending stream of scandals and media reporting about them make it seem like these affairs aren't isolated incidents, but in fact some kind of trend, many people wonder if there's some reason that public figures who espouse conservative values act in direct contradiction to those values in private.

There may be some serious science behind these types of behaviors. For instance, researchers at Northwestern University recently published a study which posited that people who are highly moral in one area of their lives may "balance" their goodness by acting immoral in other areas. One blogger at Psychology Today opines that men who run for political office may be more aggressive and risk-taking than other men, and thus more likely to engage in "illicit" sex. But I'm not aware of any research that demonstrates that Republican politicians, or politicians in general, are any more or less likely than other people to have affairs. They're just more visible and held to a higher standard of conduct than the average person.

Democratic politicians have had their share of missteps too (hello, John Edwards, Jim McGreevey and Eliot Spitzer). In fact, you could say that Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky opened the floodgates for this kind of scandal and made it widely acceptable to investigate and report on the private lives of elected officials (that, combined with an explosion of instantaneous news media). But I think there tends to be much more debate and focus about Republican sex scandals because of the fact that they are not only lying and cheating, but also appear to be hypocrites who think it's OK to condemn others for things that they themselves are doing. The public may be less likely to forgive an affair from someone who makes religious and moral values a centerpiece of his or her political life. I personally felt some sympathy for Jim McGreevey when he admitted his affair and came out as gay, but wanted to strangle Larry Craig.

I believe that if our country was less homophobic and more accepting of different relationship configurations, these types of scandals would happen much less often. It's still extremely difficult for an openly gay, lesbian or bisexual person to get elected to public office, and nearly impossible for someone who is in an open or polyamorous relationship. Yet it's a fact that not everyone is heterosexual and not everyone is cut out for monogamy. If we're forcing people who are interested in serving our government to choose between a political career and their individual identities, then we will either lose qualified candidates for office or we will elect people who are doomed to be liars and cheaters. Any Republicans out there agree with me?

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.