photo for are sex addicts suitable for publicCurrently everyone seems to form some kind of impression about Anthony Weiner’s  or Bob Filner’s sexual behavior and what it means.  But what do people really know?  Clinical evaluation of someone’s sexual behavior involves a thorough interview and testing and consideration of how much or what kind of treatment they might need for the anticipated outcome. The person watching the events play out in the media doesn’t have all the information or expertise.

So how can the average voter know how to evaluate a candidate’s sexual indiscretions?

When should political figures be given a pass, when should they be expected to  redeem themselves, and when are they just beyond the pale?  I decided to take a look at the history of the recent sex scandals involving politicians to see if their behavior gave any clues.

The Political sex scandals since 2010

There were approximately 15 state and local and 12 federal sexually related scandals involving elected officials, candidates and a few staff people in the three years spanning 2010-2012.

Of the 12 federal cases only one was that of a woman, a Republican National Committee administrator who allowed $52,000 to be spent for a fund raiser at Club Voyeur which included bondage and topless dancers.

Of the 15 state and local scandals two involved women including the Minnesota State Senate Majority Leader who had an “inappropriate” relationship with a male staffer, and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley who was accused of having had two extra marital sexual encounters but who denied it.

Of the 11 men involved in federal level scandals the sexual behavior breakdown is as follows:

4 – Sexual harassment (including Herman Cain)

3 – Extramarital affairs including one having a child outside of marriage (Pete Domenici)

2 – Inappropriate online activity (including a married congressman who sent flirtatious emails and a shirtless picture of himself flexing his muscles to a woman via Craigslist, and the earlier revelations about Anthony Weiner)

1 – Homosexual harassment (groping male staffers)

1 – Soliciting sex from a minor

Of the 13 men involved in State and local scandals the sexual behaviors were:

6 – Harassment or sexual assault (two were charged with criminal offenses and one did time)

3 – Extramarital affairs (two involving a child with another woman: Arnold Schwarzenegger and gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino)

2 – Homosexual activity (by apparently straight men with children, one with a male prostitute and one in a gay bar)

1 – With a stripper in car (married father of three when arrested for a DUI, also traces of Viagra in his system)

1 – Activity with a minor (in a hot tub with a 15 year old naked girl in 1985)

So what are the signs to look for?

Some of these guys may qualify as sex addicts and some may not.  Just looking at a narrow slice of behavior will not be definitive.  Clearly politicians who have committed criminal acts or who seem to cross ethical boundaries without much compunction are going to be seen by most of us as bad news.

But can we write off everyone who is accused of sexual indiscretions?  Bill Clinton has managed to rehabilitate his image to a remarkable degree.   Elliot Spitzer may yet stage a complete comeback into politics.  Anthony Weiner- who knows?   So what’s the key?

For most of those politicians who “plead” sex addiction we will probably never know if they really got help or if they really changed.  But there are some things which should send up red flags for any voter and other things which signal hope.

Cluelessness.  Most people have an intuitive feeling that a politician who doesn’t “get it” is trouble.  They should trust this intuition.  Cluelessness means that there could well be an addictive aspect to his behavior.  People are telling him he’s been inappropriate but he can’t see it.  This means he has a veneer of denial which has allowed him to engage in the behavior.  He is kidding himself and may resist getting help or changing.

Continuing to lie about the behavior.  Someone who is caught and forced to address the behavior that his constituents find unacceptable but who then continues to secretly engage in it is  not only in denial about what it means, but is also engaged in protecting the addiction.  The lying signals that the person wants to be able to continue to do the behavior and is not ready to give it up.

More than one behavior or a pattern over time.  No behavior is inherently a sexually addictive behavior.  It depends on how it is carried out.  Again we may or may not be able to tell what the full picture is from just what emerges publicly.  One behavior may come to light while other related behaviors do not.  But if there is an identifiable pattern or more than one addictive behavior it is probably a bad sign.

Wives are not a yardstick. What a politician’s wife says or does provides no useful information.  A spouse involved in this kind of public disclosure will be operating under all kinds of stress and her thoughts and actions will have multiple determinants that are unrelated to whether the politician can be trusted.

A good sign

Probably the most encouraging sign is one that we will not see right away.   Politicians who transgress sexually and who take steps to change will demonstrate this in their future behavior.  They will not only be working on themselves over time but they will be making “living amends” changing their priorities and genuinely giving back to others.  But in order to see a person change and show their better nature it is necessary for a period of time, years, to pass.  It makes sense to be skeptical about someone who is getting help but is still in the early stages.

Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource.