Sex and Power: The Story Made Under The Sheets

People cheat not only for sex but also for passion, to feel alive. As women gain social and economic power, they are also becoming ...

This is a parenthesis of the history of sex and power, it goes far beyond the confines of a bedroom. It is a handful of small exemplary stories explaining that, at times, the unscrupulous use of sexuality allows us to take advantages. Even more to reach unattainable goals.

Sex and power are the engine of history … And probably the French painter Gustave Courbet was referring to this. In 1966, he called The Origin of the World his masterpiece that depicted the genitals of an anonymous woman.

To achieve power, men and women have always exploited all available means, such as sex. Taking advantage with the talent of the aesthetic qualities of mother nature. Many of the characters we will meet helped each other not only with sex but also with cruelty, unscrupulousness, intelligence, and cunning to achieve their ends. 

These characters are women who, thanks to beauty, but also to intelligence, irony, intuition, sex and perseverance, have conquered power. They have even managed to revolutionize the history of kingdoms and states. But even men, abandoning the role of hunters to become prey to gain a slice of authority in the countries where they lived. 

Sex has passed in civilizations, it also had a religious and social value. In many peoples, mating was a holy act and for this reason, it played a leading role in religion. The possibility of procreating offered the opportunity to join the divine. And also imitating the gods that had populated the Earth. Sex gave ecstasy and sublimated the mind to get power. For this reason, straight and homosexual practices were an integral part of many rituals. In pagan religions, there were rituals which included, in addition to marriages taking places in temples. These practices appeared from prehistoric times, exalting the female figure not only under the erotic aspect.

With the advent of more complex social forms, the male deities took precedence over the female ones. Manifesting heroic and warlike characters, while the female divinities generally assumed erotic characters even more obvious.

Among the Greek-Roman gods that populate the Olympus, ther were sexually strong. Zeus stands out, the most womanizer and libertine of the male deities, who threatened nymphs, goddesses and mortals. Another example of strong interdependence between sex and the holy can be found in the East. In ancient India. Here the Kama-sutra was a religious text, even before it was erotic. 

Even the Old Testament – a book for Jews and Christians – exalts the feminine beauty and the delights that a woman could offer. «[.] How beautiful you are, my friend, how beautiful you are! [.] Your breasts are like two twin fawns of a gazelle, which graze among the lilies. [.] Kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! Yes, your tenderness is sweeter than wine.[.] How beautiful you are and how gracious you are, O love, daughter of delights! [.] “(Cantico dei Cantici, 4). For the Church of Rome the song that tells of the love between a man and a woman. However, contains metaphors that restore the Edenic condition of Adam and Eve without sin.


The powerful king of Israel of the tenth century BC, Solomon, son of David, apparently had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. (many scholars, however, believe that the work is by an anonymous writer of IV century BC which brought together several antecedent poems originating in the Mesopotamian area). 

Another practice that enriches our journey was that of prostitution. It was popular among the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Phoenicians. As a religious rite, it could take place under the aspect of hierogamy or hierodulia.

In hierogamy, it symbolized the union between a god and a goddess. The sovereign coupled with the priestess of the temple, who transferred to the sovereign the fertilizing power of the goddess. So that the king could transmit it to his subjects. In the hierodulie, the slaves consecrated to the gods offered themselves to those who visited the temple to pay homage to the gods.

There was also the form of apotropaic prostitution that  girls could practice before the marriage. It had two functions: the first was to dedicate one’s virginity to strangers to magically drive away from the dangers of life. The second to collect the dowry necessary for marriage.

Jewish monotheistic cults, Christian and Muslim then, opposed and censured this type of prostitution. Since for the moralizing pretensions of the single God it was intolerable to link the sphere of sexuality to the sacred cults. It was Christianity that definitively separated sex from the sacred sphere, relegating it to the private sphere. This is even elevating  to absolute evil if had outside marriage.

Sex, therefore, distances itself from the power, but certainly for a long time. Even some pontiffs preferred to approach both the pleasure of the flesh and that of the spirit. We will find a brief overview of this chapter of the Church of Rome later. We remain in antiquity.

Sex was also decisive in making wars break out and getting power. Homer tells of a war fought for a woman: Elena. Surely, however, the real reasons that led the Achaeans to attack Troy were to a question of political and economic supremacy. 

Even the Roman historian Tito Livio tells that one of the first Rome wars was because of a sexual booty. The women of the Sabini neighbors. Legend has it that after the foundation of Rome, Romulus posed the problem of how to populate it. Then he turned to neighbor populations to forge alliances and get women to populate the new city with. To the refusal of the neighbors, he replied with cunning. He organized a great party to which he invited the Sabini neighbors of the Curiti tribe with their respective wives and daughters.

In the middle of the party, while rivers of wine had intoxicated the guests. The Romans kidnapped the Sabine women and with their weapons drove their men away. The Sabine king Tito Stazio went to Rome to lead his people in arms to demand the return of women. Entering the city, thanks to the help of the young Tarpea who opened the doors to them, the Sabines went on the Roman attack. Then the women arrived and asked for an armistice because they had become attached to their captors and could not allow more blood. The two peoples made peace.

Around 1230 BC the kingdoms of Ugarit and Amurru (now in Syria) risked destroying each other. It was precisely because of a woman, because of sex. The princess of Amurru. She married the king of Ugarit to strengthen the alliance between the two city-states. (a widespread practice in antiquity). The king of Ugarit repudiated it by sending it back to her father. Perhaps because he had not wanted to consume the marriage. The affront became a good reason to make war on the kingdom of Ugarit. So have more power in that region.

History has taught us that the feminine weapon of pleasure, sex, many times it has managed to defeat the strength and power of men. Cleopatra VII Tea Filopatore has fascinated writers and artists over the centuries. Thanks to sex, she gave birth to the legend of the beautiful seductress capable of captivating two of the most powerful men. Cleopatra first used sex to seduce Caesar (giving him a son, Caesarion) and so got power. Then passed to Marcus Antonius (from their passion two twins were born). And finally, she almost succeeded in seducing Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) before committing thirty-nine years.

Although Dante sent her to hell, among the lustful, and Boccaccio condemned the “lasciviousness”. Cleopatra only tried to save the political autonomy of Egypt. You should know that, by the discovery of a coin of 32 a. C. with her effigy, Cleopatra was not really beautiful but had enormous charm. She used it to restore the pharaonic tradition overshadowed by the Roman-Hellenistic civilization.

In the Greece of the fourth century BC, there was a fascinating and disquieting age from the name Frine. In reality, it was Mnesarete, Frine was a nickname that meant “little frog”. Of free condition, at first she undertook to do menial jobs. Then she became a much sought after a very rich prostitute. In the course of her life she became the muse-lover of the great sculptor Praxiteles. Of the most famous painter of antiquity, Apelles (who depicted her as Venus emerging from the waters). And of the democratic party speaker Hyperide, known for his uncompromising opposition to the imperialist policy of Philip the Macedonian.

Even a certain Grillione, a member of that ancient and prestigious Athenian court became part of the ranks of its lovers. They said that Frine, thanks to her power and sex, proposed to rebuild the city of Thebes. If the Thebans had engraved this inscription: “Alexander destroyed it, the era Frine has resurrected ». It was an explicit challenge to the moralism of conservatives. According to them, it was inconceivable that the name of an era could be engraved on public buildings. Between 350 and 340 she was brought before the court of Athens because she has offended the gods for her libertine attitudes. Her defender, Hyperide, led her to a place in the courtroom where everyone could see her and tore off her clothes, exclaiming. “How can such a beauty offend the gods ?!” Frine avoided the death sentence.

If Frine wanted to rebuild Tebe, another age, Taide, wanted to avenge Athens, destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. Taide was part of the group of courtesans of Alexander the Great. When the latter invaded Asia Minor, he was with the Macedonian ruler. In a night of drinking, wild dancing and sex, Taide managed to convince Alexander to set fire to Persepolis’s Persian palace.

Khayzuran, the concubine of the Baghdad al-Mahdi caliph who lived in the 8th century, was also very “blatant”.Khayzuran was a quaina, that is a slave who knew poetry, dance, music, and bel canto. He managed to become the caliph’s favorite and gave him two sons, Musa Al-Hadi and Harun Al-Rashid.
On the death of the caliph his eldest son, Musa Al-Hadi came to the throne, as he had been decided by his father. Soon, however, Khayzuran sensed that his son was not willing to suffer his interference, so the new caliph soon died killed. There are no elements to impute the beautiful Khayzuran, the fact remains that his second son Harun Al-Rashid became the new caliph. Under his reign, the power of women continued to grow until his death in 789.

The sex and power story repeats itself several centuries later, with the Ukrainian slave Roxelana (the “Red”). Her real name was perhaps Aleksandra Lisowska, who was bought at the Istanbul slave market. The Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pascià gave her as a gift to the sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. (according to some scholars, Roxelana was initially donated to the father of Suleiman, Selim, who, being no longer in age to enjoy it, he gave it to his son).
In 1534, thanks to her qualities as a seductress, but also to her ability as a narrator. She managed to get married by Suleiman, becoming his only venerated wife. The sultan already had a son, the true heir to the throne, but Roxelana managed to get him killed by paving the way for his sons Bayezid and Selim.

If many women came to power thanks to their body and their intelligence, others were exploited to preserve power. It is the case of Xi Shi, who lived in China in the fifth century. King Gou Jian used her, to take revenge on the king of the kingdom of Wu who had defeated him. He donated her to rival Fu Chai, who loved her. It was enough to convince him to wage war against the neighboring kingdoms of Qi, Jin, and Lu.
The wars against these kingdoms weakened the army of King Fu Chai and the ruler of Yue took the opportunity to attack the ancient rival. The latter suffered a humiliating defeat. 

Even in the Rome of the popes, there is no lack of examples of unscrupulous women. Thanks to their bodies, they managed to seize power by writing new pages of history.

In this context, we can insert the story of Marozia, who dominated 10th-century Rome. A city conditioned by the decadence of the customs of a Church in which moral values were set aside. Maria dei Teofilatti, or Mariozza and later as Marozia, was the daughter of Teodora. (sister of Adalberto of Tuscany and lover of Pope John X) And of the patrician of Germanic origin Teofilatto. Lived between 892 and 955.
Marozia, together with her mother. She managed to maneuver at least eight pontiffs, three of them

They were placed on the throne of Peter precisely by her: Leo VI, Stephen VII and John XI his son.

Marozia enters the history of Rome joining her cousin Pope Sergius III when she was only fifteen, which then in 911 she probably killed. She had three husbands and her marriages were all because of the thirst for power. In 931 she succeeded in imposing on the throne of Peter the son he had from his relationship with Pope Sergius III, who became John XI only twenty-one years old. Already very influential, with her son on the papal throne, Marozia became a true pope in pectore. 

After marrying Alberico I of Spoleto, from whom she had a son. She later managed to marry Ugo di Provenza (king of Italy from 926 to 947). Marozia was also preparing the coronation of Ugo as emperor, exploiting her influence on the Pope’s son, when the other son, Alberico II, got from the marriage with Alberico I of Spoleto, turned against her. With a coup she seized power in Rome, restoring civil authority in the City. She deposed his half-brother, Pope John XI, who was imprisoned, where he remained until his death.

At the same time, she also imprisoned her dangerous mother in the terrible Mausoleum of Hadrian. (which would later become the famous Castel Sant’Angelo). Marozia, then ended her days in a convent, where she died, presumably in 955. The story of Marozia probably inspired the famous legend of Pope Joan.

Traveling through time among women who have also used sex to become rich and powerful, we find Veronica Franco, a famous and influential Renaissance courtesan. Born in 1546, daughter of another courtesan, after a marriage combined and failed with a rich doctor. She met Jacomo di Baballi, the richest merchant of Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) who became one of her lovers-protectors.Thanks to her knowledge she was able to access education and the arts, writing poetry. She used her preparation and her social level to influence political life. For the glory of Venice, she also managed to slip into the bed of Enrico di Valois, the future king of France. 

This did not prevent her from falling into the hands of the Inquisition, on charges of witchcraft. Thanks to its culture and its ties with the Venetian nobility, it was in any case absolved by this accusation.

Marie-Jeanne Bécu, a beautiful courtesan, people knew her as Madame du Barry, also managed to get into a king’s bed. In fact, replacing Madame de Pompadour, meanwhile dead. Madame du Barry succeeded in seducing the King of France Louis XV, influencing the affairs of state. 
She died guillotined on 8 December 1793. The French revolutionaries accused her of counter-revolution, of having sold assets of the Crown and of financing the French nobles.

If Marie-Jeanne Bécu managed to intrude on the affairs of a nation thanks to sex. Another woman managed instead to “make a state” under the sheets. The Countess of Castiglione (Virginia Elisabetta Luisa Carlotta Antonietta Teresa Maria Oldoini). In fact, took only half an hour to convince Napoleon III to support the Italian unity. She only needed time to retire to a room in the castle of Compiègne.

In fact, as the minister of the kingdom of Yue had done over two thousand years before. Cavour proposed to the Savoy king to use it to seduce the French emperor Napoleon III and convince him to support Italian unity. It was a short and easy mission and gave its results. After the mission, and unable to continue the relationship with Napoleon III, the Countess of Castiglione continued to do. 

In the Paris of the early twentieth century the famous dancer “Bella Otero” passed from the stages to the alcoves of the most powerful men of her time, becoming a popular confidante. Almost all the kings wanted to meet her, from Prince Albert I of Monaco to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom to the royals of Serbia and Spain to the Grand Dukes of Russia, Peter and Nicholas Nikolaevich. But also billionaires like the American Vanderbilt or characters famous as Gustave Eiffel, or Gaudì and Gabriele D’Annunzio.

The power it exercised over the men of power did not save it from an unhappy and very long old age, which lasted up to ninety-six years. 

But when there are women in power, the roles are reversed but the dynamics do not change.

Passed to history as “Giovanna the huntress of men”, “Sovereign lustful”, “Giovanna insatiable”, the “queen of a hundred lovers”, Giovanna II d’Angiò, queen of Naples from 1414 to 1435, remained famous for his insatiable hunger for sex. 

Giovanna II was generous with her lovers, but also a victim of characters hungry for power. Two were the favorites who knew how to reward worthily with the title of “grand seneschal”, one of the seven most important offices of the kingdom: Pandolfello Alopo and Gianni Caracciolo.

Around the Queen of Naples popular legends have arisen which have contributed to creating a bad image of Giovanna II. For example, at Castel Nuovo, or Maschio Angioino, Giovanna had a secret trap door where she threw her lovers who had finished their task. Giovanna, despite her reputation, was a sovereign who actually never exercised her power. Not because she was at the mercy of her loving passions, but because she was inexperienced. Therefore unsuitable for the government and victim of greedy and cunning characters.

Also significant is the story of Sofia Augusta Federica, who became a Tsarina of Russia from 1762 to 1796 under the name of Ekaterina Alekseevna II. Hungry for sex, she used her lovers as pawns both to get to power and to maintain it. One of Catherine’s lovers, Grigori Orlov, helped her get rid of her husband Peter III, a tsar of all Russia. Once she became a Tsarina she continued to cultivate a passion for men. Apparently, she collected twenty-one lovers, as reward for their services.

Two of these were the most lucky: Stanislao Poniatowski and Grigorij Potémkin. The first became king of Poland, the second governor of the Crimea and prince of the Taurine. Despite her preoccupation with sex, Caterina is still considered an “enlightened sovereign”. 

There is an important part of humanity that, even without sex, has managed to conquer a slice of power. The eunuchs, men subjected to genital mutilation operations. 

If sex has very often been used as a lever of power, the exclusion from practicing it dispensed authority and prestige. In fact, many eunuchs (from the Greek eunôuchos, or “to keep bed”, that is to say, “guardian of the alcove”) became confidants of sovereigns, important officials, brave warriors, powerful priests. The main function of this caste of men was that of guardians of nieces and harem, but often they acquired important offices because they were considered faithful and exempt from nepotistic practices. Famous is the film by Totò, “A Turkish Neapolitan”, in which the unforgettable actor was mistaken for a eunuch and then put to guard the wife of a well-known merchant.

The first testimonies on the practice of castration date back to three thousand years ago, according to the first Hittite testimonies. Evidence of the presence of eunuchs is cited by the Greek historian Xenophon in Ciropedia, written in 365 BC, but first we recall that this practice was widely used by Semiramis in the ninth century BC In the Byzantine Empire many were the eunuchs who seized the levers of the power, up to the highest ranks of the army or administration.

Another characteristic of the eunuchs, apart from their imposed sexual abstinence, was also their vocal quality. In the presence of prejudices about the presence of women in ecclesiastical choirs, or to exalt their virtuosity and vocal acrobatics, many eunuchs made a career in choirs and in the theater. The most famous of these was undoubtedly Carlo Broschi, better known as Farinelli, who in the eighteenth century gained notoriety by becoming the most famous opera singer of the time. 

If in antiquity and in the Middle Ages with sex one could make a fortune, in the contemporary age non-legal sex has often become, on the contrary, a weapon to make people lose power, or at least to discredit a rival.
The first theorist of this practice, the scandal as a political weapon, was Lenin who, on the eve of the 1917 revolution, urged journalists to find the sins of the powerful of the Tsarist regime to defame them. 

Among the various red light scandals that have involved politicians from around the world, we remember that of John Profumo, British War Minister in 1963. The English politician had a relationship with a beautiful model, Christine Keeler. The story ended up in the hands of a Labor MP, George Wigg, who used it against his rival.
When the scandal broke out, Christine Keeler revealed in an interview that she was simultaneously attending Minister Profumo and Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet diplomat with a reputation as a spy. Profumo left the office and the entire government of Harold MacMillan fell with him.

In 1998 a scandal involved then US President Bill Clinton and the 24-year-old intern Monica Samille Lewinsky. The relationship became famous precisely because the meetings took place in the oval room of the White House. Between the two there were no complete reports, and for this reason, the room was ironically christened “oral room”. The scandal broke out after the revelations of an online newspaper. When the prosecutor Kenneth Starr opened an investigation with friend of Monica. A certain Linda Tripp, gave the prosecutor over twenty hours of telephone conversations full of confidences.

Clinton denied having had sex with the intern, but Monica confessed to avoid jail. In a four hundred and forty-page report to Congress, Starr asked for the indictment of the president for lying. The Chamber agreed but the Senate saved Clinton.  
The story, promptly the media called it “Sexgate”, gave a blow to the credibility of the White House. Paving the way for the republican revolt led by Bush. When the new president settled in the White House, he puritanically exorcised the hall where Clinton and Lewinsky had met.

For the same reasons, in the 1980s, another US Democrat, Gary Hart, at the White House never arrived. Despite being one of the favorites for the presidential race. All because of his relationship with an attractive model, Donna Rice. But Gary Hart was a repeat offender. In fact, already in 1984, the gossip had blocked his first electoral campaign by saying that he was an inveterate womanizer. 

In 2004 the scandal, the consequent media process touched the governor of New York, who resigned, admitting he had betrayed his wife. The detail that had done it with a male lover took second place: what mattered was the betrayal.

Two other major US scandals broke out in 2007. In June, the ultra-conservative Republican Idaho State Senator, famous for his homophobic attitudes, entered to jail for obscene conduct. The politician had tried to entice a man, who later turned out to be a plainclothes policeman. Craig initially admitted his guilt, but immediately retracted.

Only a few months before, the Republican senator of Louisiana caught the attention. David Vitter, who had confessed to being a loyal customer of an escort agency run by Deborah Jean Palfrey, better known as “DC Madame”. The prosecutor’s office had identified his name by investigating a high-level ringing call. For the record, the mysterious “DC Madame” was found hanged a few months ago. According to investigators, it was suicide due to feeling of guilt.

From the United States, we move on to the region of Kashmir. In 2006, a vast series of pornographic videos depicting underage girls appeared. The investigations demonstrated the direct involvement of politicians and senior state officials. News caused violent protests in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, and many politicians have resigned.

Also in 2007, Willie Knuckles and Moshe Katsav, were also swept away by the scandals. Knuckles, Liberian government minister and staff chairman of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was “pinched” naked in the company of two women. A local newspaper published the photos and the scandal touched the government. Knuckles resigned in order not to undermine the credibility of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav instead resigned for the protests which some former employees raised. They accused him of sexual harassment (one employee had even reported being raped). The clever Katsav, who had suspended his duties while still in office. He managed to avoid the accusation of sexual violence and imprisonment. The Israeli Parliament, however, appears to have approved a resolution not to grant Katsav the privileges of former presidents, including a representative office, a personal secretary and a chauffeur-driven car. 

Even Italy is not immune to red light sex scandals affecting politicians or influential people. Remaining with the most recent facts, two are those that have inflamed public opinion. The Mele case and the Berlusconi-Carfagna affair.

Apulian MP of the UDC, in July 2007 Cosimo Mele organized a sex and drug-based feast at the Hotel Flora, in Rome. During the party, one of the girls, Francesca Zenobi, felt ill and hospitalization was necessary. A few days later Mele made a public mea culpa resigning from the party. Francesca Zenobi, after a very brief media fame, was denounced for blackmail.

Even more recent is the sex and power story that involved the current head of the government Silvio Berlusconi and Mara Carfagna. Then sympathizer of Forza Italia and today Minister of Equal Opportunities. Berlusconi told Carfagna during a television broadcast (“If I were not married, I would marry you immediately”).

And by a pungent open letter from his wife, Veronica Lario, developed with the publication of alleged telephone wiretapping that leaded to an affair between the two. A further demonstration that the liaison dangereuse between sex and power continues to tread regardless of the scenes of the news and history.

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