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When power and libido collide

In May 10 2011 phoArnold Schwarzenegger speaks Israel 63rd Independence Day Celebratihosted by Consulate General Israel Los Angeles.  Schwarzenegger

In a May 10, 2011 photo Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at the Israel 63rd Independence Day Celebration hosted by the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. Schwarzenegger has acknowledged that he fathered a child with a member of his household staff, (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

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Updated: August 24, 2011 12:37AM

When Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his separation from Maria Shriver, his wife of 25 years earlier this month, many Americans were shocked. However, when news of his housekeeper/mistress and teenage love child came to light, millions of us were left wondering: What the heck was he thinking?

And, while we still were rapping our heads around that news, we learned of other surprising (and much more heinous) allegations about another famous man. The head of the International Monetary Fund and French politician, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was arrested at JKF airport following allegations of sexual assault. The victim, a hotel housekeeper, accused Strauss-Kahn of holding her against her will, forcing her to perform oral sex and attempting to rape her.

While it is impossible to say what drives someone to cheat (or what drives someone to assault another human being), their powerful public presence likely informs some of their poor decisions. Here’s how:

They never hear the word “no.” Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn are rulers in their own little kingdoms, and whether they are hobnobbing with the rich and famous or chasing the domestic help, they help themselves to whatever they want. Combine that sense of entitlement with the fact that high power and socially/politically aggressive men typically have high testosterone, and sexual aggression often comes into play. Both men have been accused of past sexual indiscretions — Schwarzenegger is alleged to have groped a number of women over the years, while Strauss-Kahn is alleged to have a history of sexual assault.

In fact, it seems more than one innocent woman reportedly has become trapped in the web of this poisonous French spider. Another woman already has come forward and accused Strauss-Kahn of behavior eerily similar to that of the New York situation. At the time that incident occurred (nine years ago), her own mother convinced her not to come forward, and the victim became convinced that no one in France would believe her story or support her case. Almost a decade later, we can only be too glad that this woman finally has been able to stand up and make her allegations known, both for herself and for potential victims everywhere.

They need constant validation. Fame often goes hand-in-hand with a little dose of narcissism. Many high-powered men require lots of sex and plentiful adoration to feel good about themselves. In Schwarzenegger’s case, like many men before him, cheating became a form of that validation, even though he was married to an extremely gorgeous, smart and devoted wife like Maria Shriver. In addition, the need for sexual and emotional coddling can increase exponentially during times of stress or anxiety.

Interestingly, Schwarzenegger’s affair is alleged to have occurred during the same year that he was suffering from back woes and the same year he underwent heart surgery. Such events might have left him feeling vulnerable, old, needier and more lost than ever.  In certain cases like this one, no wife could fill that sense of emptiness and void inside.  My guess is a whole army of women couldn’t, but that doesn’t necessarily stop someone from using sexual aggression and infidelity to try to run away from sadness and emptiness.

They make their moves whenever possible. If you are wondering why Schwarzenegger would have cheated on his hot wife with an otherwise nondescript housekeeper, it’s this: She was there. She was available. A man like Schwarzenegger has little time or opportunity to go out on the town and meet women, and he certainly can’t log on to Craigslist for anonymous sex easily without getting caught.

Convenience trumps all when it comes to infidelity, and sadly for Shriver, when you marry a power-hungry, needy man, you may be the one left cleaning up after the housekeeper.

This is not to say that all high-powered men are cheaters or that any woman who marries one should have known better. And by explaining Schwarzenegger’s alleged behavior, I am certainly not excusing it.  But it helps us all to understand the intersection between power and libido, insecurity and neediness, and self-absorption and entitlement.

Dr. Berman hosts “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” at 9 p.m. Mondays on OWN and “The Dr. Laura Berman Show” from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays on Oprah Radio (on XM 156/Sirius 195). She is the author of It’s Not Him, It’s You.

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