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Deciphering the sex appeal of our nation’s politicians

This story was reported for the San Diego News Network on June 26, 2009. See original copy of story.

There once was a woman named Maria Belen Chapur. Chapur loved a pretty powerful American man – a governor of about five million people, nonetheless. The governor was named Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Chapur is from Argentina. Chapur isn’t alone, however.

Women and men all over the world are attracted to politicians, some have simply taken the step further to fulfill their desires. We heard about Rielle Hunter and her tango with Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), Cynthia Hampton and her fling with Sen. John Ensign (R-Nevada), Patricia Allen and her affair with boss Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.) and in our own state, a married Ruby Rippey Tourk had an affair with the unmarried San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Of course, an article like this couldn’t be mentioned without America’s intern Monica Lewinsky and her office rendezvous with former President Bill Clinton.

So, what’s the deal about this so-called attraction to politicians? Are these women just really into their politics? Or is it just the power of attraction? And for some, is that attraction strong enough to have a soiree with a married man or to stray from your own marriage?

It can be answered in one word according to an SDSU psychology professor. The word is “power.” It could be something more or perhaps, nothing more at all. But with certainty, it’s all about power, said Radmila Prislin.

But before we jump into the Senate chambers – let’s start from square one.

Interpersonal attraction is a sector of social psychology that focuses on why women are attracted to certain men and vice-versa. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, one’s level of attraction to another is based on several areas including personality and physical attributes. For some, pairing with the “opposite” is common.

“Personality type is another determinant of interpersonal attraction,” stated an excerpt of the encyclopedia. “In areas involving control, such as dominance, competition, and self-confidence, people tend to pair up with their opposites. Thus, for example, the complementary pairing of a dominant person with a submissive one….a person will choose a partner who will enhance his or her own self-image or persona.”

In the book, The Handbook of Social Psychology by Daniel T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, Gardner Lindzey, this theory is examined further. The authors find that men can not attain their “ideal match” because of their “resources.”

“Men lacking the status and resources that women want, for example, generally have the most difficult time attracting such women and must settle for less than their ideal,” the authors write. “Interesting evident about men’s unrestrained choices comes from comparing men with fewer resources with those who have historically been in a position to get exactly what they prefer, such as kings and other men of unusually high status.”

The authors use historical references. They find that men of “high status” from the 1700s and 1800s of Germany, attracted many young women compared to men who weren’t wealthy: “Kings and despots routinely stocked their harems with young, attractive, nubile women and had sex with them frequently.”

In the end, theories show it’s all about the power politicians have, said Prislin. The SDSU professor said women can greatly benefit from a relationship with politicians – benefits that don’t involve love.

“Women are attracted to men for many reasons – power, influence, access to resources,” Prislin said. “In a nutshell, there are very instrumental reasons.”

“Evolution teaches us that a man, who is perceived to be a good provider is more attractive. He [a politician] can open the door to jobs, to status, to career, to you name it, money.”

For Hillcrest resident Felicia Morgenstern, this theory is right on the mark.

“Paint me democracy blue, I’m drawn to a politico with a strong presence,” Morgenstern said. “Sometimes presence and power overlap, sometimes they are mutually exclusive, a Venn Diagram of sorts.”

Since we have a psychology professor at hand, let’s take a deeper look into the relationship between Sanford and Chapur.

Immediately after Sanford’s confession of his whereabouts – South Carolina newspaper, The State released emails sent between the two love birds.

In an email dated July 10, 2008 – Sanford tells Chapur the details of his attraction to her body.

“I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificently gentle kisses,” Sanford wrote, “or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curves of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night’s light – but hey, that would be going into the sexual details we spoke of at the steakhouse at dinner – and unlike you I would never do that!”

In an earlier email dated July 8, 2008 – Sanford tells Chapur he will send her a small present.

“I do not want to raise expectations, when I say I will send something insignificant I promise I will do as I say,” he wrote. “It won’t be worthy of bedside placement… was just going to find the movie the Holiday as we had spoken of it last Thursday.”

“He is making sexual comments and promising something in return – if there were ever a trade off, this is it,” Prislin said laughing. “It’s as though he wrote this to prove our studies.”

“This is the kind of attraction where power and beauty are being traded-off,” she said.

As for Chapur, in an email dated July 10, 2008 – she tells Sanford, his best interest is important.

“.. if you want to go back to that and don’t write love things and so on because is not safe for you it’s OK with me, i love you and by no way would do something that can harm you, so please let me know,” she wrote.

What does Chapur’s email tell our psychologist?

“The content of her message suggests that she is more grounded in reality than he is,” Prislin said.”The fact that she, not he, raises the issue of potential harm suggests that power may make some politicians feel invincible in much the same way adolescents feel invincible.”

Power and beauty put aside, for Hillcrest resident Morgenstern, her attraction gets heightened even further with politicians whose passion for the greater good is apparent.

“In an age of apathy and studied nonchalance, a politico with a passion and a plan to improve our collective plight is a pretty irresistible aphrodisiac,” she said. “Have I ever pursued a politico? No. Have I ever dreamed of dancing the horizontal mambo with, say, our main man Barack? I plead the fifth.”

Whether one’s attraction to a politician is power or passion or really, the way he or she voted during the last floor session – one thing is sure (at least, according to Morgenstern) – politicians are the “new sexy.”

“While many come equipped with chin waddles, ever-expanding waistlines, comb-overs and sensible shoes, just try to find a politico without a groupie,” she said. “It’d be like trying to find a virgin at an abstinence retreat.”

To our beloved Brad Pitt: It may be time to step aside as voting on a bill in a Burberry suit, is now way hotter than starring in a blockbuster hit half-naked.

Hoa Quach is the political editor for the San Diego News Network.