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Sex and Power: What’s Behind the Headlines?

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Why do powerful and famous men sexually act-out, often repeatedly, in ways that most people find inappropriate and that are risky to their careers and families? Why do they risk it all? We see headlines and inevitably ask those questions.

SPECTRUM spoke with two experts to try to find the reasons. Dr. Steven Gold is a psychology professor at Nova Southeastern University and is the founder of the highly regarded Trauma Resolution and Integration Program. Christopher Anderson is the Executive Director of the national advocacy organization MaleSurvivor, a group benefitting men who have been victimized by sexual abuse.

There is definitely a linkage between power and the sexual escapades we have seen repeatedly in the headlines involving numerous men such as Pres. John F. Kennedy, Pres. Lyndon Johnson, Sen. Gary Hart, Pres. Bill Clinton, Sen. John Edwards, Tiger Woods and Congressman Anthony Weiner – to name a few.

Our experts say that high-achieving men often have a form of narcissism and certainly a feeling of entitlement to act-out sexually as they please without consideration of risks or consequences. There is often a direct link between power and authority and the inner feeling of sexual entitlement.

The fact that some powerful men seem not to be able to stop these objectionable behaviors – regardless of the severe consequences–leads to a discussion of sexual addiction or compulsive sexual behavior. Our experts say that this form of addiction is the necessity of “continuing to do something regardless of the consequences.” In short, they are not able to stop the aberrant behavior regardless of the risks.

Both Dr. Gold and Anderson quickly stress that this form of addiction or compulsion is NOT an excuse for the activities but instead is an explanation for the repeated nature of bad behavior. The acting-out may be a form of self-medication for the perpetrator similar to alcohol or drug abuse.

“Trauma” also is a critical element in finding the reasons for this sexual acting-out and its results.

In addition to a sense of entitlement and addictive behaviors, both Dr. Gold and Anderson say past “trauma” may be an underlying reason for the perpetrator’s behavior. Past trauma may be the underpinning for a feeling of present entitlement.

Trauma also alters the behavior and life of the victims. Dr. Gold studies both aspects of trauma: trauma as the “bad” event and trauma as the result of the bad event. Academic research has been slow to study the sexual impacts of trauma but, according to Dr. Gold, research is becoming more active in this critical area of study.