MAXWELL:  For sex, men will risk all

5/4/1997 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Samson’s legendary fondness for Philistine women proved his undoing. Shortly after having slept with a harlot in Gaza, he met Delilah, the beauty who won his heart and cut off his flowing locks, the source of his superhuman strength.

This Old Testament account abounds with sexual symbols. One of the most enduring is, of course, the power of libidinous liaisons to destroy the careers and the very lives of powerful and would-be powerful men. The number of men brought down by sex is beyond reckoning.

“Of the delights of this world, man cares most for sexual intercourse,” Mark Twain wrote with inimitable candor. “He will go any length _ risk fortune, character, reputation, life itself.”

Does anyone understand the dynamics of this force? To fully appreciate the allure of sex, we need to reacquaint ourselves with some of the victims of forbidden flesh.

The closets of England’s Tories, for example, are stuffed with illicit dalliances. Some snapshots:

+ Former Transport Minister Steven Norris crashed and burned following accusations that he had five mistresses during his marriage.

+ Cecil Parkinson quit the Cabinet following revelations that his former secretary was having his baby.

+ Environment Minister Tim Yeo resigned after his mistress had a love child.

+ Heritage Secretary David Mellor quit because of his affair with porn star Anotonia de Sancha.

Now to the United States, where sex is worshiped, where we cannot keep our panties on and our trousers zipped, and where, ironically, sexual misconduct is treated more harshly than anywhere else in the industrialized West.

From the beginning, American men have risked everything for sex of the extramarital kind. Thomas Jefferson, our third president, relished the amorous company of a female slave and fathered children by her. During his day, Jefferson seemed immune to criticism and retired to pristine Monticello a statesman.

Most of today’s revisionists, however, condemn Jefferson and see his assignation as evidence of a serious character flaw. In contemporary America, a Jefferson would probably languish in disgrace. Indeed, he risked everything, even for his time. Why?

Other American men have self-destructed for sexual intercourse. In 1974, Arkansas Democrat Wilbur Mills, head of the House Ways and Means Committee, literally chased stripper Fanne “The Argentine Firecracker” Foxe into the Tidal Basin. Afterward, Mills became persona non grata and with him went the nation’s best chance ever of getting universal health care.

Two years later, Ohio Democrat Wayne Hays fell from grace when journalists learned that Elizabeth Ray, his secretary, could not type a lick and, believe it or not, did not know how to answer the telephone.

I must mention former U.S. Rep. Gus Savage of Chicago because I voted for this swine. Savage was finally defeated after voters learned of his sexual assaults on a young Peace Corps worker. Mel Reynolds, the lech who followed Savage, was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, criminal sexual assault and child pornography.

Some men even threw away their chance to hold the most powerful elected office on earth. Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy was denied the White House forever when he drove 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne to a watery death at Chappaquiddick. And Colorado Democratic Sen. Gary Hart, the odds-on favorite to become president in 1988, enjoyed some Monkey Business with the beautiful Donna Rice. Hart literally lost his pants in this tryst.

Now back to Arkansas, where a young Gov. Bill Clinton apparently tried to out-sex both Kennedy and Hart. Just before the 1992 presidential primaries, Gennifer Flowers came up for air and claimed a 12-year affair with Clinton. Later, Paula Jones, a state employee, charged that Clinton had dropped his trousers for her benefit in a Little Rock hotel and had asked her to “go to town,” as it were. So far, “Slick Willie” seems to be charmed.

But why, if the accusations are true, did he, along with others listed and unlisted here, take such risks?

If, moreover, we add raw sexual attraction to the aphrodisiacs of power and conquest, we get the likes of a Delmar Simpson, the army drill sergeant convicted of raping six female soldiers under his command. Simpson had an enviable future in the military. Now, he and others like him can only dream and wonder why and what if.

Why jeopardize honor, career and family for sex? Experts argue that many powerful men become so intoxicated with their power that they feel omnipotent and entitled to whatever they want _ especially the favors of women. Society showers these men with admiration, adoration, beds and flesh.

All well and good. But Mark Twain probably had this whole thing figured out long ago: Most men simply cannot resist sexual attraction and will make stupid, even self-destructive, decisions as a result.

Here is an example of such stupidity: The Boston Globe reports that Michael Kennedy, 39, the brother and political confidant of Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, may soon be charged with statutory rape. According to the Globe, Michael Kennedy’s wife caught him in bed with their babysitter. The affair may have lasted two years _ starting when the girl was 14.

As Mark Twain would say: Stupid. Beyond stupid.