Ensign And Sanford: Sex, Power And Public Failure (And how you can protect yourself!)
by Poppy Smith
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Governor Mark Sanford and Senator John Ensign recently joined a sad list of public figures who have failed morally. I only have to mention former President Bill Clinton, former Gov. Elliot Spitzer, various mayors, police chiefs, a former CEO of Boeing, military recruiters, senior classmen at the Air Force Academy, prison guards, pastors, counselors, junior and high school teachers, (male and female) for us to recognize the breadth of this problem.
Talking about sex, power and public failure isn’t a pleasant, feel good topic, especially in Christian circles. But it must be talked about, especially as too many who publically claim to uphold “family values” don’t. This topic is not academic or irrelevant, it is for every red-blooded man or woman, Christian or not. It needs to be addressed because when we practice behaviors that are inappropriate, we are putting our reputation and career on the line, as well as the well-being of those who love and trust us.
Most of all, we are tearing down the dwindling credibility Christians have in our culture as people who live by a different moral code because we know and love God.
At the heart of most public failure is an abuse of power. Whether you have a formal position over someone in your workplace, volunteer in a ministry, or simply have people looking up to you, you have power.
What is Power?
Power is the ability to make things happen, or stop them from happening.
Power is having authority, influence, and control.
Power is also a trust, a responsibility, a privilege.
Abuse of power happens at every level in society. The world saw it in Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, an intern young enough to be his daughter. We see it frequently in teachers taking advantage of vulnerable teenagers, or home health workers sexually assaulting the elderly in their care. Abuse of power happens when an employer takes advantage of his employee. It also happens when a hurting person seeks help and counsel from a priest or psychologist.
Everyone Is Vulnerable
In light of how widespread this problem is, it’s naïve of us, whether male or female of any age, to imagine we are totally immune to the power of sexual desire and emotional need. This is part of our common humanity—and few people are without these struggles on occasion.
But our essential response to using and abusing our power or position of influence, must be:
It is never okay to take advantage of another to satisfy our own physical or emotional needs
It is always our responsibility when we act out, AND
We must learn to manage our own impulses, longings, and temptations.
Regardless of what prompts inappropriate behavior: childhood sexual abuse, emotional need, mid-life crisis, boredom, a sense of entitlement, sheer hubris, or the high need for stimulation and excitement, recognizing our own vulnerability is vital. Knowing what to watch out for is essential if we want to avoid making choices we might well regret.
How Women Attract Men
Men need to know that some women, consciously or unconsciously, want to attract a man (married or single) because of their own emotional needs. Because of damaging experiences in their early years, some women crave male attention, love, and a sense of being wanted. Women can also get a power-rush when they attract a successful man who perhaps gives them added status and prestige.
Here’s some more ways that women, deliberately or unconsciously, attract men:
- Looks: women know men can turn weak at the knees around a gorgeous female
- Body: a youthful, firm body is powerfully appealing, especially for older men
- Perfume: sensory nerves catch a whiff and the brain responds in interest
- Neediness: some men are drawn to an emotionally needy woman, wanting to rescue her
- Adoration: a woman makes it clear she thinks you’re wonderful
- Sympathetic: she listens, cares, feels for you, agrees with your viewpoint
How Men Attract Women
Several years ago, Henry Kissinger said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” He was right. Here are ways that men, deliberately or unconsciously, attract women:
- Status: men know that their ability to open doors for a woman gives them power
- Verbal strokes of approval: affirming a woman’s capabilities can lower her resistance
- Admiring looks and comments: if she’s starved for compliments, this draws her in
- Sharing personal needs: this appeals to her rescuer instinct and arouses empathy for you
- Implying your wife doesn’t understand you but she does: this flatters and entraps her
- Veiled threats: unless you cooperate, I can block your progress here, or tell others.
How Do You Protect Yourself?
Reflecting on the ways both men and women attract each other, all of us need to ask:
Where am I vulnerable? What could emotionally hook me?
And, how do I keep myself from succumbing to inappropriate behavior?
1. Face yourself.
Hard as it is, ask yourself if any of the following experiences lurk in your background or secret thoughts. If their presence hasn’t been either recognized or dealt with, know that given the right pressures they can make you highly vulnerable to inappropriate behavior.
Do I have a personal history of sexual abuse or other family dysfunction?
Do I have unrealistic expectations of myself—a drive to prove I am capable or attractive?
Are there still issues that flood me with feelings of shame from my earlier years?
Am I bored and looking for stimulation?
2. Learn to recognize red flags.
When Potipher’s wife went after Joseph, he knew what to do (Gen.39). Here are three actions we can learn from his successful resistance to temptation:
Make sure you stay strong in the Lord—being honest with yourself before God.
Know what to say and do if someone comes on to you and you’re attracted.
List the consequences ahead of time should you bite the bait: write them down, face them.
Think about the damage to yourself, your family, your reputation, and your career.
Think about the respect you would forfeit.
Think about the emotional pain, the embarrassment and humiliation you will face.
Think about the damage to the name of Christ and the disrespect others will have for your proclaimed faith.
A major red flag is sensing your attraction to someone other than your spouse. It’s at this point that you choose whether to be honest with yourself, and the Lord, and take protective action. Face facts: emotional attraction is powerful, and even though it seems so innocent, it often leads to physical infidelity. Don’t put yourself in a position to fail. Be like Joseph and run!
3. Set Up Boundaries
Take care of yourself: Be in touch with your thoughts and feelings! Pay attention and provide for your physical, emotional, spiritual and relational needs. Workaholism, exhaustion, stress, and emotional emptiness leave you vulnerable to temptation.
Have a personal ethical code: write a statement on “How I want to conduct myself.” Write out specific guidelines—what you will and won’t do.
Work in a team: Avoid one on one situations at work or in ministry that could trip you up. Have couple friendships through work, church, or your neighborhood.
Keep conversations to the work/ministry you share or general items, not personal struggles
Be accountable to someone: Seek out someone you can talk with as soon as you sense you’re wrestling with an out-of-bounds attraction. This is the time to ask a mature, Christian friend to pray for you and meet with you regularly for accountability and support.
Learn to stand your ground and say NO: Remind yourself that this is not what you want in your life, this is not who you are. You belong to Christ and you are not your own. You were bought with a price!. Say this to yourself and tell it to the other person if you are both aware of this attraction.
Paul warns us to “flee youthful lusts.” Whether you’re “youthful” or not is immaterial in today’s sexually pressured culture—we all need to flee when Satan draws us into yet another of his traps!
Let me speak the truth: No precautions guarantee a life without failure. It takes constant vigilance over our heart and intentionally choosing to live a life that honors God. But, if you act on these practical steps: being honest with yourself, admitting your vulnerabilities, and setting up boundaries—your chances of acting inappropriately and suffering the consequences will be greatly diminished.
Copyright 2009 - Poppy Smith. All rights reserved.