Pepper Schwartz PH.D
Senator John Enseign and Governor Mark Sanford have joined the ranks of sexually straying political husbands…a pretty crowded category. Both men have been caught with their pants down, even as they have pontificated about sexual morality to the rest of us.
It may be why watching them get busted is a guilty pleasure.
Of course none of us can afford to be sanctimonious. We all know that there is no one who is pure in all categories, even if we can pass muster in a few. Maybe stepping outside the marriage isn’t our temptation-but what about private drinking, a little random shop lifting, or binging on food? Most of us know what it’s like to do something we don’t approve of, or struggle with a backstage life that has nothing to do with what is happening in front of the curtain.
Somehow though, we come down hardest on someone who has sinned sexually. Even though we know the nature of human beings is to fall in love or lust unwisely, we don’t like to admit it- and we are afraid of condoning it. We don’t want to be the perpetrator or the victim. Denial of it as a common human fragility is usually our way of denying our own vulnerability to temptation, flattery or an impulsive and compelling crush.
We know the rules- and we respect them. But we also know that those rules are harder to keep than we pretend they are. The fact is that even if most men and women are monogamous, a huge percentage are not-and that percentage grows when you allow for the fact that ambitious, hard driving, fame seeking people are not too likely to be laid back and uninterested in their sexual appetites and emotional connections. They are, let’s face it, a high risk group.
So, here’s where I stand on this situation. I actually felt sorry for Governor Sanford- it was clear to me that he had deeply loved his Argentinean lady, that he felt he had sinned against God, himself, his wife and his family, and he was miserable about everything that had happened. He wanted punishment, and his frankness and openness about his behavior was testament to his desire for full disclosure and censure.
Well, if you watched his news conference, you know he got his full measure of humiliation. And his withdrawal from GOP leadership will be part of his fall not only from grace but from power. Still, we might consider a measure of forgiveness, no matter what his wife and family decide to do (since their pain is much great than ours). We could acknowledge that the power of sex is great, the flesh is weak-and the discovery of the marital betrayal has its own agonizing consequences. That should be enough pain for those who want to exact it.
One thing, however, I would like to see from our famous miscreants: a little less sanctimoniousness about sexual issues and a lot more compassion when it comes to relevant social policy. The heart has its own urgencies, and our brain is sometimes no match for our endocrine system. Let’s just acknowledge that fact and be a bit more understanding and compassionate when the next person -or sexuality related social issue-becomes a headline