soliderAmidst revelations of an affair between CIA Director General David Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, not to mention the alleged inappropriate communications between Petraeus' successor in Afghanistan, General John Allen, and Petraeus family friend Jill Kelley, one can't help but wonder: What were these men thinking? Of course, we asked the same question with Tiger Woods, Anthony Wiener, Eliot Spitzer, and a whole bunch of other sexually misbehaving public figures.

Basically, these men were not thinking - at least, not in any clear-headed way in which the potential negative consequences of their actions came into play. That much is obvious. Why else would an otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, lifelong public servant with a sterling reputation such as General Petraeus jeopardize his marriage, reputation, and career? Keeping in mind the fact that many people thought Petraeus might eventually ascend to the US presidency, there was an awful lot at stake here!

Obviously, General Petraeus did not give a lot of thought to the possibility his affair could become public knowledge. In other words, like most men who engage in extramarital affairs, he did not expect to get caught. Lost in a fog of emotional arousal and preoccupation, he felt invulnerable, safe from the possibility of his compartmentalized sexual acting out being discovered by his wife, the FBI, the media, or anyone else. For such men, the neurochemical pull of fantasy-based arousal creates a false sense of protection, an increasingly impenetrable emotional "bubble" where, in the moment, little but the sexual behavior matters.

Afterward, many men who cheat on their wives engage in an extensive process of minimization and denial, telling themselves any number of lies to justify their behavior. Most of these lies boil down to the following three themes:

It is an evolutionary imperative for men to sleep with as many women as possible. Therefore, I'm only doing what a guy is meant to do.
My marriage is inadequate because (insert any excuse you can think of here), and the only way I'll ever get my needs met is to find sex outside the relationship.
What my wife/spouse doesn't know won't hurt her, so I'm not really doing anything wrong.

Of course, married men who choose to cheat are purposefully ignoring the commitment to monogamy they made when they took their marriage vows. They elect to conveniently forget that, in the end, all we really have is our word. In General Petraeus' case, he was also ignoring his commitment to his nation. The simple fact is extramarital affairs are viewed as especially risky for military and intelligence officers because they could be blackmailed to keep an affair quiet.
Is Sexual Addiction to Blame?
Oftentimes in sex scandals that become public, as has the Petraeus affair, we hear the phrase "sex addiction" bandied about as an excuse for the bad behavior. After all, having an illness sounds a lot better than simply blowing off the sanctity of your family and, in the case at hand, the protection of your nation. That said, there is no evidence that General Petraeus is a sex addict. In fact, his affair with Paula Broadwell appears to be an isolated incident that is very much out of character. And even if he is a sex addict (which he probably isn't), a sexual addiction diagnosis is not in any way meant to "take off the hook" or "give excuses" to him or any man (or woman) whose sexual acting out has caused harm to self, loved ones, family, and community. Sex addicts are, under all circumstances, responsible for the hurt and loss caused by their behavior. Period. No exceptions. Not even for the Director of the CIA.
The Military Angle
At this point it is neither salacious nor unpatriotic to discuss the increasing number of documented incidents of problematic sexual behavior in the US military. First, however, I wish to state very clearly that the vast majority of our servicemen and women demonstrate great respect for their role and fully understand what it means to represent our nation. It is unfortunate that the problematic sexual behavior of a small percentage of soldiers and officers can cause such serious damage to the morality, dignity, and long-term health of our armed forces.

The issue of inappropriate sexual behavior is not simply a matter of servicemen blowing off steam while on short-term leave by picking up prostitutes or other sexually available women - an activity that has, over time, developed an honored "rite of passage" aura. Of much greater concern at this point are sexual harassment and rape by fellow servicemen, as well as the abuse of pornography on military owned computers, laptops, smartphones, and other devices. Typically these issues are either "swept under the rug" or handled idiosyncratically, depending on who is in command on that particular day.

As an expert in the area of problem sexual behavior and sexual addiction, I have been privileged to provide multiple educational programs for US Military Chaplains and Military Family Advocacy therapists - trainings specifically addressing problematic sexual behavior by US servicemen and women. As such, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on the current situation, and what I can tell you is the Petraeus affair and the Secret Service prostitution scandal we saw a few months ago are merely the tip of the iceberg - making the news because the scandals occurred at very high levels. Unfortunately, the natural tendency of the military in terms of problem sexual behavior is to shake their heads, say "boys will be boys," and wait for the situation to blow over. This attitude merely reinforces the military's "culture of acceptance" when it comes to sexual acting out. In a perfect world the military would use the current indignity as an opportunity to openly and thoroughly review its policies related to sexual misconduct. I truly hope that occurs, even if history tells me such action is unlikely.

 


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From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (November 14, 2012)

From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (November 14, 2012)






    Last reviewed: 14 Nov 2012

APA Reference
Weiss LCSW, R. (2012). Men in Power and Sexual Misbehavior: The Ongoing Saga. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2012/11/men-in-power-and-sexual-misbehavior-the-ongoing-saga/

 

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