Although various political sex scandals have been making the news recently, these events are (obviously) nothing new. Naturally enough, people find these events fascinating because they involve three things that most people find rather interesting: politics, sex and scandals. Oddly enough, these scandals are also philosophically interesting.
One factor that is often noticed in regards to such scandals is that the main figure involved tends to be a man. There are some noteworthy exceptions. For example, Catherine the Great was said to have kept a steady supply of young lovers available over the years. In the United States in recent years, a mayor, a US Representative and a state Representative have been involved in relatively minor scandals. These all involved affairs in which either one or both of the parties were married. Internationally, the most famous recent case was that of Chu Mei-feng of Taiwan who resigned after evidence of her involvement with a married person was revealed.
The list of sex scandals involving men is considerably longer. In New York alone, there have been two sex scandals in the past month (Spitzer and Paterson).
Naturally enough, this raises the question of why there is a difference between male and female politicians in this regard.
One obvious possibility is that worldwide the majority of politicians are men. As such, there will naturally be more sex scandals involving men. This factor might be adequate to explain the disparity without bringing in gender based differences. This can be tested in an empirical manner by determining the number of sex scandals for each gender relative to the gender breakdown of politicians. If the difference is not statistically different, then it would be reasonable to conclude that men and women are equally likely to be involved in sex scandals and hence there is most likely no real gender difference in this regard.
Until such a study is completed there still remains the possibility that the difference is not just a matter of numbers but is actually based in gender differences. Dee Myers, author of Why Women Should Rule the World, contends that women are less inclined to be involved in sex scandals. There seems to be some evidence that women are starting to get closer to men in terms of being unfaithful (there are, of course, some obvious problems with trusting statistical data on infidelity). This leads, naturally enough, to the question of why women might be seen as less likely to have sex scandals.
One common hypothesis is that men and women are different biologically. Men are, stereotypically, seen as being more controlled by their sexual urges than women. This is, of course, a reversal of the usual general stereotype that men are more rational and women are more emotionally driven.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it is sometimes said that males try to mate as much as possible (thus increasing the chances of passing on his genes) while female prefer to have one mate who will provide protection and support(thus increasing the survival changes of herself and her offspring). Hence, some would claim, the difference in behavior is genetically based.
The obvious problem with appealing to biology is that it is difficult to determine the extent to which human behavior is determined by biology. There are obviously biological differences between men and women, but determining whether these would be relevant to such behavior would require a more extensive knowledge of biology and behavior than we have. It can, however, be considered a possible explanation.
One main reason that determining the effects of biology is difficult is because we do not find humans “in the wild” acting purely in accord with biological factors. Humans are found in societies and are shaped by their socialization.
All known major human societies regard (or regarded in the case of those which no longer exist) sexual infidelity as wrong. But, transgressions by women have generally been regarded as worse and hence have generally been more severely punished. There also tends to be more social acceptance of such misbehavior by men relative to women. Because of this, men would be more inclined to engage in scandalous behavior while women would be socialized to be less inclined to do so. This would certainly help account for the fact that infidelity on the part of women is said to be increasing. If it was strictly a matter of biology, then the fidelity and infidelity rates should remain fairly constant.
It certainly does make sense that female infidelity would increase. One obvious factor is reliable birth control-this certainly makes it safer for women to have affairs. Another factor is that the social stigma of having affairs is not as strong as it was in the past. While adultery is still a crime in many places, such laws are almost never enforced in the West. A third factor is that women have greater social and economic power an hence can better withstand the failure of a marriage. This also affords women greater freedom to meet people-thus affording greater opportunity for affairs. A fourth factor is that technology has made surreptitious communication easier (and, ironically easier to track), thus enabling people to organize their affairs.
If women are becoming more inclined to be unfaithful, then the number of sex scandals involving women should, in theory, start to increase. If this does happen, then it would be reasonable to attribute the lower numbers of scandals for women to social factors rather than to biology.
I suspect that such scandals will increase but that they will probably remain lower for women relative to men (taking into account the overall numbers in politics, of course) for quite some time. Naturally enough, if women achieve equality with men and there are no longer separate standards for men and women, then I suspect the scandals will also be roughly equal between men and women.