Why Do Men in Power Misbehave Sexually?

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Over the course of the last year, countless men in power have been accused of sexual misbehavior. And with this endless stream of revelations, one can’t help but wonder: What were these men thinking?

To be honest, these men were not thinking—at least not in any clearheaded way where the possible consequences of their behavior came into play. That much is obvious. Why else would intelligent, successful, highly public men chase something as fleeting as sexual gratification in ways that so thoroughly jeopardized their careers, reputations, marriages, and in at least a few cases their freedom?

These had everything to lose and very little (if anything at all) to gain. So why?

According to sexual disorders treatment specialist Robert Weiss, these men either don’t expect to ever get caught because they’ve been getting away with sexual misbehavior for years or even decades, or they get lost in a fog of emotional arousal and preoccupation in which they feel invulnerable—somehow immune from the possibility of discovery and consequences. For such men, the neurochemical rush of arousal creates a false sense of protection, an increasingly impenetrable “bubble” where nothing but the sexual behavior matters.

Weiss says that in treatment these men justify their behavior with an extensive array of minimization, rationalization, and denial. They tell themselves, their therapist, their lawyer, their loved ones, and the public any number of lies to explain their actions. Generally, these lies boil down to one or more of the following themes:

  1. What other people don’t know can’t hurt them.
  2. All men behave this way. I’m just the unlucky guy who got caught.
  3. If other people engaged in this behavior it would be unacceptable, but I’m different because…
  4. If I weren’t so rich/famous/powerful, nobody would care about this.
  5. People want me to help them get ahead, so why shouldn’t I get something in return?
  6. I’m a catch. Anybody who doesn’t want me is crazy.

Of course, these excuses ignore the generally accepted boundaries of the workplace, society, and very often the legal system. And that is a problem. These men want us to believe they are living their lives with integrity, and that we should respect them, but then they violate our trust by acting in profoundly sexually inappropriate ways—justifying their actions with ridiculous lies and rarely (if ever) considering potential consequences.