Congressman Anthony Weiner joins the long line of men in public office who have risked their families and careers for sexual indiscretions. It’s been a solid month of high profile men behaving badly, very badly: John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
There’s not much new about this. There have been many heterosexual, well-known men who have potentially risked everything for a sexual encounter or thrill. Think Gary Hart, Marv Alpert, Bill Clinton, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, Bill Cosby, Elliot Spitzer, Bill O’Reilly, and Mark Sanford. Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Cosby continue on with their work and Mr. Spitzer got a TV show; others have not been so lucky. It remains to be seen what will happen to Mr. Weiner, although one has to wonder whether tweeting yourself in underwear or Facebook chatting with women you don’t know is really grounds for resignation. Surely though his vast abilities and his championship of many of the causes I hold dear are now severely compromised.
But these men have either forgotten or never learned some basic rules for sexually healthy adults. So here they are:
Honor your commitments to your partner. A sexually healthy marriage is based on honesty and trust; only you and your spouse know what you have agreed to, but don’t put her in the position of having to stand by you at a microphone while you confess to the entire world. Keep that picture in your head as you are considering your behaviors. And, if you can’t honor the commitments you’ve made, you’re better off staying single.
Understand that you can have a sexual feeling without acting on it—without even telling anyone about it. Think about it—if Bill Clinton had thought to himself, “Cute Intern. Too Young, Too Risky,”and moved on, he would not have been impeached. If your partner isn’t interested in exploring a particular part of your eroticism with you, the safest thing is to explore it only in the confines of your mind. No one has ended up on the front pages because of a privately held fantasy.
Nothing, really nothing, is ever private between two people. Someone always tells someone. And the less the other person has to lose, the more likely they are to tell more people. In fact, unless it’s your life partner, only have sex with someone who has as much to lose as you do. Sex workers don’t. Neither do women or men in their twenties. And sexual bantering, sexting, tweeting, emailing, and Facebook messaging are NEVER private. We tell our teens don’t post anything you don’t want your grandmother to see. To men in public office, don’t post anything you don’t want to see on the front page—anywhere or ever.
Sexually healthy adults discriminate between sexual behaviors that are life enhancing—for themselves and their partners—with those that could be destructive (of themselves or their partner(s)). If there’s a chance that the behavior could cost you your partner, career, reputation, just say no. Visiting a sex club, a sex worker, having sex with an employee, tweeting a sexual photo or sexting, soliciting someone in a public bathroom or park: chances are it’s going to land you on the front page and you’ll lose your job and probably your marriage. It’s even worse if you’ve campaigned or worked against other people doing the same things. At least Congressman Weiner isn’t for curtailing other people’s sex lives while exploring the dark side of his, a la Vitter.
Remember that a moral sexual relationship is consensual, non-exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable, and protected. Does the relationship meet those criteria? Mr. Weiner says he never touched any of these women: I guess that makes them protected. I’m wondering though about the other four. If you can’t answer yes to these, say no.
Always ask if the behavior consistent with your values, expressed and internal. If you’re found out, will you be accused of hypocrisy? More importantly, can you live with yourself?
Of course, this ethic applies to all of us, not just people in political power. May we once again be reminded that sexuality is both sacred and powerful, and we need to honor its role in our lives.