The Seduction of Power

Sex addiction or seduction of power?There seems to be a growing daily trend in the media, with new stories appearing regarding the extramarital affairs of famous people, and the consequences of these powerful men’s philandering. The question begs, why have men in situations of power and influence jeopardised their marriages, reputations, and careers for these brief encounters? Speculation is rife and while sex addiction might account for some of these scandals, a group of psychotherapists at the Washington School of Psychiatry recently explored the underlying dynamics that repeatedly sees famous and powerful men exploited in this way. While the issue is complex and multi factorial, these researchers believe a mixture of personality type and opportunity accounts for a large part of this trend.


Personality type

So what is it about powerful men and sex scandals? One explanation put forth by the aforementioned psychoanalysts is that narcissistic men with weak superegos lack control over their instincts and impulses and thus inevitably end up in such situations. While this might be true, it does not fully account for the great restraint and self-control that the individual displays in other aspects of their lives. On the other hand, where the superego (moral fibre) is so dominant and suppressing of natural urges that cannot be met in ‘normal’ or open ways, inevitably something has got to give. Society favours virtuous qualities in those that are under the constant scrutiny of the public eye, who have dedicated their lives to strive towards an ideal.  Unfortunately these individuals are likely to end up revealing their humanity in ways that are detrimental for their mission and reputation.


For powerful and successful people, such as politicians, athletes, and those in entertainment, opportunity often presents itself. Power has always been attractive, and thus powerful people are surrounded by a lot of willing and forgiving people. The consequences of their actions are often avoided, with special rights being awarded to them, making it is easy to see how someone could believe themselves to be invulnerable.  Given the unstable nature of these high powered jobs, risk taking personality types are invariably attracted to this type of job, where the risk or thrill of getting caught and losing it all is actually enjoyable or exciting for them.


So while personality type and opportunity goes some way in explaining how people in power frequently gain publicity for their sexual pursuits, from a psychoanalytic point of view, the power of transference ought to not be overlooked. Transference in this respect is the projection of unconscious childlike love onto a person who appears caring, capable, and protective. Transference also accounts for the transferential love experienced by many clients/patients in relation to a person in authority, such as a doctor or therapist. For a person in authority to give in to such seduction is naturally considered a breach of ethics and is punishable. However, the power of transference does reveal something interesting about the nature of seduction and power, and what matters is how those feelings are channelled.

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