08/14/2008 01:15 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why Powerful Women (Mostly) Avoid Sex Scandals

Catherine the Great was a woman with an extravagant, exacting sexual appetite. During the 34 years of her reign, she had a host of young, well-trained lovers--many of them soldiers--who were paid handsomely for sating her, and were often rewarded with plum positions on her court, or gifts of property or serfs. Her libido was so legendary that when she died of a stroke in 1796, rumor spread quickly that she had been crushed under the weight of a stallion she was attempting to have sex with. It's a myth that has endured, and serves as a reminder of our fascination with powerful, sexual women: will they stop at nothing?

The question is, as another round of public sex scandals unfolds, where are these women today? The confessions of Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson--the man who, on the same day he replaced Spitzer, admitted to past affairs--pale when compared with tales of the Russian empress. Yet while there has been a spate of men caught with their pants around their ankles in recent years, political scientists scratch their heads when asked to come up with a female equivalent for the men (Spitzer, former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey) the New York tabs have dubbed "Luv Guvs."

There have been only a handful of minor scandals involving women in public office in America, and most of them have been due to love affairs, not casual--or commercial--liaisons. In 1989, when Sue Myrick was running for re-election as mayor of Charlotte, N.C., she confessed to having had a relationship with her husband while he was still married to another woman in 1973. (She went on to win the election.) In 1998, shortly after U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth, a Republican from Idaho, began airing anti-Clinton advertisements insisting "personal conduct does count," she admitted to having had a six-year affair in the 1980s with a married man who later worked on her congressional staff. In 2004, state Rep. Katherine Bryson of Utah was caught with a lover on a surveillance camera; her then husband set it up to catch a burglar, he said. She called it an abuse of power because county employees had been used to install the equipment, but a police investigation cleared her husband of wrongdoing. (Internationally, one notable standout was an escapade in Taiwan, where tapes of politician Chu Mei-feng having sex with a married lover were leaked in 2001. She apologized and resigned.)

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