“It’s Only Sex” and the Importance of Sexual Virtue in Politics

One of the things I remember hearing back during Bill Clinton’s presidency was that his extracurricular activity should be given less attention or even forgiven because “It’s only sex.”  Unfortunately, we forget that sex can be used as a weapon by others (states, non-state actors, individuals) bent on compromising those in power.  Foreign Policy recently discussed how “sexpionage” is used in the affairs of state (pun intended) and how even top leaders have been ensnared.  Here is one juicy case from the UK during the Cold War:

One of the most significant episodes in the annals of sexpionage occurred during the depths of the Cold War in 1963, when Britain learned the hard way that mixing sex and spying could cause even the best-laid plans to go off the rails. Britain’s MI5 security service successfully dangled showgirl Christine Keeler in front of the Russian naval attaché Yevgeni Ivanov. But Keeler’s knack for making men swoon had a downside. John Profumo, the British secretary of war, was at a party that summer when he saw Keeler swimming naked in a pool. He fell for her too.

As Melton put it, “You have a situation where the equivalent of the secretary of defense is having an affair with the same woman who is having an affair with the Russian naval attaché. This was not to end well.” Indeed, after Profumo emphatically denied the affair on the floor of Parliament, Keeler decided to sell his love letters to theExpress newspaper. Profumo resigned, and Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government crumbled.

Not surprising, the US has allegedly had cases of its own to worry about:

In the United States, these kinds of scandals may have gone all the way to the top of the government. Suspected East German spy Ellen Rometsch, for instance, was a call girl at the Quorum Club, a favorite spot for politicians (who used the side entrance) in Washington, D.C., who allegedly became involved with none other than President John F. Kennedy. While the president had plenty of affairs, this one was of particular concern to his brother, Robert Kennedy, who had the unenviable task of sending her back to Europe, making sure she didn’t talk, and getting FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to drop his investigation into the matter.

Given the danger that such escapades could lead to national security secrets being compromised, a bit of sexual virtue* on the part of politicians might be of some value and thus shouldn’t be discounted when we think about selecting leaders in a democracy.

* A nice description of this can be found here in reference to Aristotle: “Lust is not a virtue because it is a tendency to feel too much sexual desire and to respond to it too indiscriminately.  Lust lies at the extreme of excess.  At the other extreme is the state of character we sometimes call frigidity which consists in a tendency to feel too little sexual desire or to react too little to it.  Sexual virtue, will lie at the mean between these extremes on Aristotle’s view.  Sexual virtue will consist in feeling and responding to sexual desire under the right circumstances and to the appropriate degree.” [emphasis added]

3 thoughts on ““It’s Only Sex” and the Importance of Sexual Virtue in Politics

  1. interesting entry; i thought you were going to link to the story in the NY Times today on the (female) hook-up culture in college, but still a nice entry on its own.

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