Why am I so fascinated by the sex lives of politicians?

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, September 4, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Bristol Palin's last pleasurable sex act

Bristol PalinWhy am I so fascinated by the sex lives of politicians? Because they offer windows into the soul of American sexuality, in terms both of its reality and its ideals. In the former category go the endless affairs of John Edwards and other religious prevaricators and politicians. In the latter goes the strange case of Bristol Palin, the 17-year-old pregnant daughter of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Initially, the Palin family and Republican leadership seemed secretive about Bristol's pregnancy. But when it became apparent that the pregnancy is actually a plus for the Republicans politically, the teenager and her 18-year-old boyfriend, Levi Johnston, proudly joined her mother on stage after her speech at the Republican convention.

So here is my first musing - does the couple sleep together on the campaign trail? I believe the answer has to be "No, that would be wrong. They're not married."

Palin supporters uniformly describe Bristol's pregnancy as a mistake that shouldn't be held against her. Fair enough. But they never say what the mistake was. In fact, they believe the mistake was the sex act itself - not the failure to protect herself against pregnancy and disease.

So sex between these kids is wrong - as is sex education in the eyes of Palin supporters - but pregnancy is good. So long as the two young teens settle down, get married, and no longer enjoy sex, all is forgiven. Of course, it is unlikely that they initiated sex with this attitude - they did it for excitement and pleasure, in which guilt was an important ingredient.

But now that they are "settled in" (to a premarital pregnancy), all thoughts of sexual pleasure are out the window. They will have to raise a small child, go to school, and parade themselves in front of Republican crowds as upstanding, chaste Christians. Not a very sexy journey to embark on at the age of 17.

Somehow, since former Republican VP Dan Quayle chastised Murphy Brown for being a single mother, the American sexual ideal for teens has shifted. Recognizing that chastity is impossible, stalwart Americans have regrouped to the position that kids can go at it as long as sex for fun is quickly abandoned. The symbol of this transition in thinking about teen sex is the happy greeting of Bristol's pregnancy.

In a way, we have returned to the bundling enjoyed by Puritans in Colonial America, where unmarried young people slept together on winter nights for warmth, which quickly put them in a family way and eliminated all thoughts of illicit sex. That is, until they started cheating on one another.

When a girl conceived out of wedlock, Puritans generally tried to establish a family. Pregnancies often resulted from the Puritans' curious custom of "bundling." Bundling allowed a courting couple to sleep together in the girl's home provided they were individually bundled. While the Puritans appeared to take a loose position on fornication they severely punished adultery and they executed homosexuals.