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Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Silvio Berlusconi - Sex and Power

Posted: 06/07/11 14:19

On Irish radio you hear adverts from time to time inviting men who feel listless, low and lacking in drive to go to their doctor to be investigated and treated for low testosterone levels. These rather dubious pharma industry-sponsored adverts do point to male hormonal issues that tend to be neglected in contrast to their female equivalents.

But one treatment for low testosterone in males may be a non-obvious one -- POWER. I was struck last night watching Sepp Blatter 75, head of FIFA, the international football body, meeting with Robert Mugabe 87, president of Zimbabwe. I don't know about their sex lives, but certainly these two elderly men didn't look like they would be tripping off to their doctors to have their testosterone levels measured because of listlessness and lack of drive. And then of course there is Silvio Berlusconi, 74, whose appetite for sex and power seem limitless and who most certainly would not be seeking medical help for low testosterone levels.

And then there is DSK, 62. Shortly before the events in the New York Sofitel, he was rated by Forbes magazine to be the 37th most powerful person in the world, and whatever the truth of the allegations against him, at the very least consensual casual sex took place more or less on the way to the airport. Here is another older man in whom the appetites for power and sex are in vigorous form.

So what's going on here? Is it just a coincidence that at ages when many men are contemplating slippers and gentle walks, these international figures are living the lives of testosterone-fueled twenty-somethings? What comes first, the drive or the power? The research suggests a bit of both. Oliver Schultheiss and his colleagues of the University of Erlangen in Germany found that both men and women who have a high unconscious need or drive for power over others have sex significantly more often than people who are not motivated by power. Tony Blair has a high need for power, and he was also distinguished by being nominated last year for a bad sex writing award in his autobiography, A Journey.

But the link between power and sex is not a one-way street -- even transient power -- for instance winning a game against another person -- boosts testosterone levels. What's more, there are certain attitudes towards women which, if a man shows them, make them more likely to engage in sexual harassment. When men with such attitudes have thoughts of power unconsciously primed in their brains, they show increases in sexual desire, even though there was nothing specifically sexual in the unconscious power primes. Such primes do not trigger sexual desire in men who do not have such harassment-inclining attitudes to womeni.

So when it comes to these older men and their unusual drive, they bring a testosterone-fueling need for power to the table in their rise to power, but once they have it, that keeps the testosterone flowing. And when that happens, their brains operate in a different way, spewing out cognition-enhancing dopamine and leaving them hungry for more -- of everything in life. So, older lads and ladettes, if you want to get a bit of zest in your lives -- try a bit of power.

i - Bargh, J. A., Raymond, P., Pryor, J. B.,& Strack, F.(1995). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 768-781.