Sex Education for Politicians—Weiner Edition

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 itwithout 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 enhancingfor themselves and their partnerswith 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.

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  • margaret-conway

    Rev. Hafner,

    Thank you for such a thoughtful analysis of the Weiner debacle! It is reassuring to see a fairly sex-positive analysis of this whole thing. Your focus on parameters for sexually healthy relationships is a great start.  Two specific questions/comments:

    1) Why did you narrow this to heterosexual men? Both Governor McGreevey and Mark Foley fit into men behaving badly categories…one for lying to his wife and the other for likely abuse of power with Congressional pages. As a member of the LGBT community, I am all too aware that when gay sex is involved it become even MORE titillating for the media; that said, I don’t think they get a pass here.

    2) I’m curious why you added sex clubs to your list of “sexually destructive” behaviors. Is that because for an elected official it would be too public? If someone is single, I’m not sure a sex club is by definition a problem.

    By your own definition, sex clubs fall clearly in the consensual, non-exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable, and protected. Actually, plenty of online (and offline) sexual behavior does too. If someone is single, or if their partner is informed or involved, where do you come down on that?

    This whole debacle shines a light on the variety of sexual inclinations people have. The mainstream media moves them quickly into some sort of kinky trangressive behavior, furthering our cultural obsession, fear, and confusion about sex. We need more people like you working to raise awareness and acceptance of what constitutes healthy sexual expression so we can all be more honest and comfortable with ourselves and our partners.

  • anonymous99

    Rev. Haffner,


    Well, I think all these guys knew all this stuff, but that pesky thing called biology has a way of tripping us up sometimes.  The reality is lifelong, romantic, monogomous relationships just aren’t natural or healthy so we shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t work.  I put modern marriage right up there with communism as the greatest failed social experiments of all time.


    And I think to focus on men as the “transgressors” really misses the point.  Women cheat also as you well know.  You can argue that men cheat more often within the bounds of “marriage”, but that’s only because barriers to divorce are so much higher for men.  When you’re unhappy in your marriage, but facing the loss of your children and financial enslavement to your wife in divorce you just end up taking your chances with a mistress.

  • prochoiceferret

    Well, I think all these guys knew all this stuff, but that pesky thing called biology has a way of tripping us up sometimes.  The reality is lifelong, romantic, monogomous relationships just aren’t natural or healthy so we shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t work.  I put modern marriage right up there with communism as the greatest failed social experiments of all time.


    Along with human civilization as a whole, right? (The planet would certainly seem to agree)

  • arekushieru

    You’re deluding yourself about these ‘barriers’ to divorce, as I’ve already proven.  Btw, can I point out one of several inconsistencies I found in this comment? First, you put it down to ‘biology’, then you put it down to an institution.  Which is it?  Neither is the truth, though.  Patriarchy and culture are.  Thanks.

  • beenthere72

    I feel sorry for your wife and your kids, not you.  I have a sister-in-law whose husband won’t let her save any of the little money she makes because he feels she should be contributing to the family when in reality she is mostly a stay at home mom to 2 young rambunctious sons.   She wants out but she has no way out if she can’t save any money.   She suspects he’s cheating.  He’s been verbally abusive.    The rare times that he joins her in bed, she feels is torture.    Why torture each other like that?   You loved your wife once, why not want to see her happy?  Why not find your own happiness?    Why torture everybody?   You don’t think the kids suspect the hate going on in your relationship?  Kids shouldn’t see that hate between their parents.    They won’t grow up to seek healthy relationships if their own parents’ relationship is built on lies.    If that’s not worth half the money you earn, you’re a selfish, selfish man.  


    Your wife is financially enslaved to YOU.   What do you expect her to do after years of raising children and not working?


    When I hear from men like you, makes me glad that I have my own money and am not dependent on my husband.

  • anonymous99

    “Your wife is financially enslaved to YOU.”

    That’s laughable.  Based on what I’ve earned, saved and invested, her 80% through community property, plus alimony and child support, upon divorce she could literally retire in her mid-40s. If I refuse to pay I would go to PRISON, mind you. I would be left with next to nothing, plus future obligations.  Have you ever heard of the “ball-and-chain”?  That I’m her “ball-and-chain” is simply absurd.  And BTW it was not OUR decision for her to stay-at-home.  It was hers and only hers.  She told me if I didn’t like it I could leave.  Faced with losing my daughter through our custodial parenting system I stayed.  But all the while my penalty for staying has been accumulated future obligations to her upon divorce.  This is all for someone with 10 years of higher education.


    “If that’s not worth half the money you earn, you’re a selfish, selfish man.  “


    Half the money?  Only in my dreams.  You have NO idea what you’re talking about.  Really?  Exactly who is the selfish one.


    Sorry you don’t like my lifestyle.  I don’t like it either.  This is “ball-and-chain” marriage.  This is the system we’re under here.  It’s great that you make your own money.  I should have married someone like you who wasn’t looking to get out of the workforce at her first opportunity.  Join me in fighting for the abolishment of marriage as we know it so we can all be better off.

  • anonymous99

    Proven what?  Women file for 70% of divorces because the barriers to divorce for men are higher, mainly because of our child custody system, but also because of post-marital welfare.


    I agree with you that our culture, with our gender stereotypes, is a huge problem.  I will gladly join you in working to change this.

  • beenthere72

    I think you’re preaching to the wrong choir here.    Do you troll conservative blogs that push for traditional marriages and forced births? 

  • anonymous99

    Please provide links to blogs that push for traditional marriages and forced births.  I will gladly beat them down as much as I can.  BTW I actually agree with the vast majority of what I read on rhrc and have commented in support of positions/bloggers here in the past against “conservative” posts/posters. 

  • colleen

    Perhaps she added sex clubs because of Obama’s 1st opponent in the 2004 US Senate race,  Jack Ryan. Jack repeatedly tried to force his then wife to engage in public sex.

    Likewise I don’t believe that “sex clubs fall clearly in the consensual, non-exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable, and protected” or at least not necessarily. In the early days of social computing (the late 80’s and 90’s) I ran across a bunch of folks who were into this and, because I interviewed them about what this was like (the rules and so on), they decided to recruit me. They harassed me as individuals and as a group and would not take a polite or even a very, very firm clear ‘no’ for an answer for several weeks. I had to lose my temper and threaten to file charges before they finally  left me alone. I dislike it when other people and particularly men won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They refused to accept that some people don’t find the notion of having sex with strangers in public even minimally attractive.

    Part of the reason for this was because in order to attend the ‘club’ one had to come as a couple and there was (naturally) a big shortage of women. To say that I found this exploitative, disgusting and degrading would be an understatement.