Why Do People Risk It All Through Sex Scandals?


Why do some celebrities risk their families and reputations through sex scandals?

If there is not one in the news today, there will be soon. It may be a politician, an athlete, an actor, a minister, or a famous journalist. The occupation seems important only in the degree of interest the public has in the weaknesses of well-known people. If Sammy the diesel mechanic commits adultery, Tweets nude pictures of himself, or is caught with a prostitute, the scandal exists primarily with those who know him. When a sex scandal happens with someone considered a celebrity, it makes headlines on national TV, magazines, and newspapers.

As well as millions of web sites all over the world.

When it happens, we cluck our tongues, shake our heads, and bemoan the morals of the rich and famous. Somberly we intone our views of their world, “Well, that’s the (NBA, Hollywood, politics, religion, you name it) for you. They’re all a bunch of degenerates and hypocrites.”

Exaggeration makes interesting commentary, but seldom provides great logic.
It is simply not true that everyone who gets involved in an inappropriate sexual situation is a degenerate or a hypocrite. Live long enough and you learn that good people may do foolish and self-destructive things. Similarly, it is simply not true that everyone who gets involved in an inappropriate sexual situation is rich or famous. While it may be true that certain occupations or media exposure offer more opportunities, the problem lies in the heart of humankind.

Abundant articles on infidelity exist in the scholarly world. Statistics vary in studies, but they consistently indicate that sexual inappropriateness exists in remarkable numbers everywhere in our culture, no matter the socio-economic level, fame, occupation, education, income, or religion. For example, though we may not like it, we know that for every famous evangelist caught in a scandal, there exist hundreds, maybe thousands, of church members who are doing or have done the same.

When he strays, Sammy the diesel mechanic risks as much in his world as does a congressman in his. Consequences come in proportion to a person’s actions, regardless of the fame or money involved. Sammy losing his wife may not cost as much financially as a California governor losing his, but the pain of a fractured family is just as deep.

Why does it happen?


Each person has a sexual schema that guides her sexual behavior. A schema is a person’s perception of his “sexual self” developed through education (formal and incidental), experience, and expectations. It encompasses beliefs derived from past and present sexual experiences, body image, religious views, parental behavior, peer behavior, media influence, sexual expectations, and a number of other things.
If, for example, a certain married man’s schema includes a perception that he is unattractive, he may find himself strongly drawn to any woman who evokes within him feelings of handsomeness. If a woman’s early sexual abuse creates a schema that confuses sexuality with feeling loved, she may become erotically involved with many men in her lifetime.

History indicates that men and women who achieve power may develop a schema that either pursues sexual favor as an expected benefit of that power, or to prove to themselves that their power is deserved.

Those famous or popular who are surrounded by people who treat them as if they are above the ordinary may develop a schema that leads them to behave as if they are not affected by the same rules, consequences, and judgments that ordinary people are restricted by. It could, for example, lead a popular actor to sexual and other excesses that get him tossed from his highly rated sitcom. His schema can be so warped that he wonders why others react negatively to his behavior rather than perceiving that he is the “winner” and all others losers.


Even those with modest schemas may find themselves in situations where passion overcomes logic. Live long enough and one discovers that anyone may do anything when in the right situation. No one is perfect. No one is above temptation. Those who think themselves immune to temptation often discover just how weak they can be in a particular circumstance.

Sammy the diesel mechanic may have fewer opportunities for sexually straying than an entertainer simply because of the number of people to whom he is exposed. He likely will not be presented with what some musicians refer to as the “buffet line” who queue after a concert. An NBA star may claim having a thousand sexual partners over a career while Sammy may not talk with as many as a thousand women in his lifetime. The greater the number of opportunities for sexual scandal, the greater the likelihood that one may yield to an opportunity. While these usually are not the long-term situations exposed such as a governor proclaiming his love for a paramour rather than his wife, they are the short-term actions exposed such as another governor fathering a child by his wife’s maid.

Both are scandals. One was likely based on schema. The other likely was based on opportunity.

The person overpowered by her passion likely is not thinking about the consequences of her passion. Each of us has known a situation in which we did something contrary to our values and potentially destructive to our lives. Some skated through without major damage, thanking their lucky stars that they did not reap what they sowed. Others paid dearly.


Throughout the ages, there have been men and women who suffered great humiliation, loss of family, and sometimes loss of position because of sexual scandal. Some are famous. Some are known by only a few. As long as humans populate this planet, scandals will continue to occur. There are always consequences relative to the realm in which a person is known.

Though we may feel superior to those caught, we should all be aware that we, too, might have the propensity for scandal. We, too, may risk everything foolishly. The lesson for all is to know our schemas, know our weaknesses, and guard ourselves so that we do not join the ranks of those marked with the scarlet letter.

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