With the most recent advent of a sex scandal in the US surrounding the former CIA director David Petraeus, Isobel Fergus examine the nature of sex scandals in politics

The most recent scandal to shock the United States was that of CIA Director David Petraeus. The affair between Paula Broadwell and David Petraeus began as a friendship when Broadwell wrote a dissertation on General Petraeus’ leadership style, later turned into the book All In: The Education of General Petraeus. The affair reportedly began two months after Petraeus was sworn in as CIA Director and was brought to light when a family friend Jill Kelley received harassing emails from Broadwell. The FBI investigated the emails, resulting in Petraeus’ resignation.

It shouldn’t really matter what politicians and other public figures such as Petraeus do in their private lives as long as they have honesty and integrity in their role as a public servant. However, dishonesty in one’s private life does beg the question, if these public figures cheat and lie to their loved ones, how far they are willing to cheat and lie in their political lives as well?

Sex scandals are extremely common in the United States. This seems quite strange for a country where a non-religious person is extremely unlikely to be elected to office. In spite of this, they still have no shortage of politicians with wavering morals. During the Republican primaries in the most recent election, two candidates saw early defeats amid sex scandals. Herman Cain had to end his campaign early in the primaries amongst allegations of sexual misconduct and adultery and later, Newt Gingrich was exposed for having a number of affairs with younger women during his two first marriages. One affair was said to have happened when his first wife was sick with cancer and his second wife claimed he had asked for an ‘open marriage.’

Members of the Democratic Party are no angels either. In the Democratic primaries of the 2008 presidency, Senator John Edwards denied claims by the National Enquirer that he was having an affair with a former campaign worker Rielle Hunter. After initially denying the affair, in 2008 he later admitted to the affair but denied fathering her child. A campaign aide released a statement that he has was the father but later retracted the statement saying that Edwards pleaded with him to take responsibility falsely. In January 2010, Edwards finally admitted that he was the father, his wife of 33 years Elizabeth Edwards legally filed for separation and intended to divorce until she lost her long battle with breast cancer in December 2010. Edwards was later found not guilty in court of using up to $1 million in political donations to hide his affair.

Not all are equally affected by scandal however. Who can forget the infamous words: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, a white house intern, goes down as the most infamous affair of modern times. The investigation led to the impeachment of President Clinton, of which he was later acquitted. Yet Clinton left office with a 68% approval rating, one of the highest of a president in the modern era. Which leaves the question why do some survive political scandals and others are destroyed by them?

The Profumo affair in the early ‘60s took down an entire government. John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, had an affair with Christine Keeler, the supposed mistress of an alleged Soviet spy, which played out like something from a James Bond film. The Cold War was at its height and Profumo’s lying in the House of Common forced his resignation and damaged the reputation of the government, with Prime Minister Harold MacMillan resigning the following year. The Clinton outcome compared to the Profumo scandal showed the more tolerant attitudes of recent times.

In Europe, we are no strangers to such scandals either. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been embroiled in a number of sex and other scandals in his career. In 2011, Berlusconi was charged with paying a minor for sex. This type of misconducts often leaks into the professional life as shown when the affair led Berlusconi being charged with abuse of power, when he rang a police station for the girl’s release on charges of theft. Perhaps this proves suggestions that moral character should matter if you are in a high position in all aspects of private and professional life.

Affairs are not only confined to males in politics. Although women in power featuring in political sex scandals are less frequent than their male counterparts. In 2010 Iris Robinson’s affair with a man 40 years her junior, forced her to resign as a member of the parliament in Northern Ireland and forced her husband to to step down as first minister temporarily.

Political life all over the world has no shortage of sex scandals and in the few mentioned the outcomes have all been different. If a politician is doing his or her job correctly their private lives shouldn’t matter. The problem is some of these sex scandals enter legal issues when cases of prostitutes and affairs with those under the age of consent enter the equation. Some manage to survive sex scandals, while others are not so fortunate. The safe bet you would assume is to avoid any such scandal at all costs and remain loyal to your spouse. When you choose to be a public servant you must know that no secret is sacred.