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Sex and power, an age-old heady combination

12 February 2015, 19:02

Paris - From Caesar to Napoleon, John F. Kennedy to Silvio Berlusconi, Cleopatra to Catherine the Great, history is full of anecdotes about the sexual antics of politicians and world leaders.

Power and a voracious sexual appetite are often intrinsically linked, as highlighted in sometimes graphic detail by the trial of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of "aggravated pimping".

"Since the dawn of time, there has been something erotic about power," says psychoanalyst Jean-Pierre Winter.

"It has a Viagra effect."

Those who set their sights on conquering power often have similar character traits, adds Jean-Pierre Friedmann, another psychoanalyst and author of two books on the issue.

"They sacrificed a lot for their ambition. They are narcissistic and megalomaniac. They think that the world depends on them, that they are in control of others. There is a desire for others to be submissive," he says.

- 'As hyper-sexed as men' -

Caesar collected sexual adventures, Napoleon could not spend one night alone and tasked his grand chamberlain Talleyrand to look for women to share his bed.

Henry IV of France, nicknamed the "Green Gallant", had some 70 mistresses.

More recently, JFK was adored as a hugely charismatic US president before his insatiable urge for sexual conquests was revealed.

And former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger famously said: "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

Italy's former prime minister Berlusconi, 78, made no secret of his conquests -- a penchant that eventually had him sentenced to seven years in jail and a ban from office when he was found guilty of sleeping with an underage prostitute, though he was acquitted on appeal.

Then there is Strauss-Kahn, whose high-flying career and presidential prospects were torpedoed nearly four years ago when he was accused of sexual assault by a New York hotel maid, a case later settled in a civil suit.

The 65-year-old is now in the dock in the northern French city of Lille, accused of being involved in a vice ring after he had sex with prostitutes at orgies, although he denies knowing the women were paid.

And it's not just men, says Friedmann. Catherine the Great of Russia and other powerful women were also known to have lots of lovers -- "amazons as hyper-sexed as men."

In November 2012, former French health minister Roselyne Bachelot acknowledged in a radio interview that "sex is extremely important and influences politics a lot".

For Friedmann, there is a primal link between sex and power.

"The males used to fight to know who the strongest was and the woman was attracted to the winner," he says. "We are animals."

He says that power and sex depend on the same hormones -- endorphins, the so-called happy hormones secreted after an intense workout, be it at the gym or in bed.

Francois Kraus of polling group Ifop says that "people who have the most extramarital partners are over-represented in higher (social) categories."

"Power, whatever the type of power, arouses desire in others," says Winter.

"It's true in companies, it's true in the entertainment world -- the director attracts actresses -- and it's even truer in politics."

However those in power do not all necessarily have an unbridled sex drive.

Charles de Gaulle, France's most famous post-war president, had eyes only for his wife Yvonne.

But are those who cannot refrain from conquering woman upon woman addicted?

No, says Winter.

"It's a real neurosis, an inability to hold back," he says.

"But the difference with an addiction is that when they are not in the presence of women, they do not suffer withdrawal symptoms like those who are dependent on alcohol."

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