Last week, in the matter of a few days, three high profile stories surfaced with one common dominator: sex.

Osama bin Laden's compound was found to have pornography, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF and once possible French presidential candidate, has been accused of rape, and Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child not of his wife's over a decade ago.

This isn't the first time that this sensitive subject has captured national headlines. Remember, Democrats Eliot Spitzer (New York governor), or John Edwards (former senator and presidential candidate), and Republicans Mark Sanford (South Carolina governor) or David Vitter (Louisiana senator). Current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich had an extramarital affair exactly at the same time that he was raking President Clinton over the coals for his affair with Monika Lewinsky. Don't forget about the mega church pastor, Ted Haggard, known for condemning homosexuality but who was busted for homosexual activity, or Tiger Woods' debacle.

I could go on an on with the list. And it doesn't matter if it is Dems or Repubs, Christian or non-Christian, rich or poor. Aberrant sexual behavior has no political favorites or religious preferences, or class distinctions. And it doesn't matter if it is more prevalent in one group more than another other; to fixate on that detail is just petty and solves nothing.

Sexual aberrance is received differently for different people. The fact that pornography was found in bin Laden's compound is consistent with that he was a bad guy. Not only was he a terrorist but he was a hypocrite, too, assuming that the materials were his and not those of someone else in his compound. But it hurts all of us when we find out someone we admire, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, violated someone we respect, his wife Maria Shriver.

The media prints sex stories because sex sells. Cable news gives these stories air time because they boost ratings. We can't blame the media; there is a demand for and interest in these stories - you're reading this now!

But what is our fascination with another's infidelity? Is it that we like to see our opponents aren't perfect? Does someone else's flaws help define who we are as "better?" Do we fear that infidelity could happen to us, or worse, that we seek confirmation that "others do it, too, so it's not really bad"?

According to infidelityfacts.com, the percentage of marriages where one or both spouses admit to infidelity, either physical or emotional is about 41 percent. The percentage of men who admit to committing infidelity in any relationship they've had is about 57 percent, and for women it is 54 percent. It is especially disturbing to find that the percentage of men who say they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught is 74 percent, for women it is 68 percent.

Other figures show that about 20 percent of fathers find out that a child they thought was theirs isn't. This is a very personal issue. A very dear friend of mine of over 20 years once phoned me in shock holding back tears after he found out that his recent newborn wasn't his. He loved this child. Adding insult to injury, the reason he found out it wasn't his was because his family insisted that he get a DNA test on the newborn since a previous child born to his wife wasn't his either. This happened right here in Attleboro.

Sex sells, yet we loathe it when it affects us and we use it to our advantage when our opponents are caught doing that which they don't want the public to know about.

There is a phenomenon in psychology known as the "fundamental attribution error." This says that when something bad happens to someone else it is because their character somehow set them up for that bad event. But when something bad happens to us, it is because of the situation. Apply this thinking "error" to this issue. When someone we don't like does something bad, we attribute it to a stable character trait: "that is a bad person and will do it again." But when someone we are fond of, including ourselves, does something bad, we attribute it to the situation or a temporary state and ask for forgiveness: "I am a good person and I won't do this again."

My point here is that, rightly or wrongly, everywhere in our society, sex is used to judge others. And assuming the stats above from infidelityfacts.com are correct, if sexual aberrance is so prevalent, individually or collectively, what, if anything, does it say about who we are? And if hypocrisy is prevalent, too, does how we deal with this issue tell us who we want to be or is it a fa├žade? Who can say?

PAUL HEROUX of Attleboro can be reached at paulheroux@post.harvard.edu.

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