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Wednesday, September 9, 1998 Published at 20:41 GMT 21:41 UK

Sex and the White House

The White House: lust in the broom cupboard

As Graham Hill reports, Bill Clinton is not alone among US presidents in having a wandering eye.

President Clinton may face calls for his resignation and even impeachment over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but he is in fact carrying on a tradition that dates back to America's first president 200 years ago.

George Washington was linked to a woman named Mary Gibbons.

Another American hero, Thomas Jefferson, was widely believed to have had a long love affair with his black slave and to have had several children with her.

[ image: George Washington: original sinner]
George Washington: original sinner
This century, Woodrow Wilson had a long relationship with Mary Hulbert Peck, who divorced her husband.

Warren Harding, president in the 1920's, was a compulsive adulterer. For 15 years he carried on an affair with the wife of a friend and then, when he took office, he began a relationship with Nan Britton, 30 years his junior.

He was reported to be in the habit of making love to her in a White House broom cupboard.

Franklin Roosevelt had affairs with his secretary, 'Missy' Le Hand and also with Crown Princess Marta of Norway, who lived at the White House during World War Two .

Dwight Eisenhower, president in the 1950s, had an illicit love affair with Kay Summersby, his driver during the war.

Kennedy's romps

However, all of their infidelities pale in comparison with those of John F Kennedy.

[ image: Marilyn Monroe: sang Happy Birthday to her presidential lover]
Marilyn Monroe: sang Happy Birthday to her presidential lover
His sex drive, which some have put down as a side-effect to treatment he was receiving for Addison's Disease, was seemingly awesome.

JFK's many conquests included the film stars Marilyn Monroe and Angie Dickinson, a stripper 'Blaze' Starr and Judith Exner Campbell, who was also the mistress of a Chicago mobster, Sam Giancana.

The Arthur of Washington's "Camelot" also cavorted with two of his secretaries in the White House pool.

Since then there have been strenuously-denied rumours about Richard Nixon and, more recently, George Bush, having affairs.

Is power an aphrodisiac?

So what is the relationship between sex and power? Carey Cooper, a professor of psychology at Manchester University, says they are two sides of the same coin.

[ image: John F Kennedy: serial adulterer]
John F Kennedy: serial adulterer
"I think there is a reciprocal relationship because what you have in terms of sex and power is that you have people - usually women - attracted to power in the first place.

"And you have powerful men who on a day-to-day basis are making important decisions who also start exercising the power in other areas of their lives - in sexual relationships.

"Politics attracts people with a high degree of energy who demonstrate this characteristic in a number of ways, including in the sexual arena. We see this historically in all sorts of societies."

Changing attitudes

However, in the past a president's peccadilloes usually remained secret - at least until his death. Unfortunately for Mr Clinton this is no longer the case.

[ image: Bill Clinton: no escaping scandal]
Bill Clinton: no escaping scandal
Professor Cooper says society's attitudes to what leaders get up to in their spare time have also changed.

"The general view now, in contrast to the past, is that the private and public areas are not seen as separate - one is regarded as affecting the other.

"The credibility of a political leader can be affected if he is engaged in private behaviour which society now judges to be immoral or inappropriate."

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