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Sure, Power is an Aphrodisiac ... Unless You Lack a "Y" Chromosome

Time Photo of Henry Kissinger.jpg

Here's the latest AM New York column - this week about powerful women and why they aren't top on most men's list of "Women to Fantasize About While Having Sex with The Wife."

The article begins:

"Power – and its uncanny ability to inflate (or deflate) one's sexual desirability – has been on my mind lately. It started two weeks ago, when Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs, told me that Martha Stewart was "hot."

Like, "really hot." Since Levy's book focuses on the burgeoning tendency of young women to equate "hotness" with donning tiny Abercrombie & Fitch skirts and flashing their breasts on Girls Gone Wild, her appraisal of Martha's sex appeal caught me off guard.

For Levy, the domestic doyenne's influence made her attractive. For me, it was just confusing. Keira Knightly is hot. Natalie Portman is hot. Paris Hilton is hot, although I wish she weren't. But Martha? Of all the adjectives I could use to describe her – and there are many – "hot" wouldn't make my top 10.

Later that week, as I was packing to leave for the city favored by homely denizens in positions of authority (that would be Washington, DC), my copy of Details magazine arrived in the mail, the cover headline blaring: "If power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, why don't you wanna bang Hillary Clinton?"

Oh my god, I thought. They read my mind. Why is it I would sleep with Bill – but not Hil? (Other than the fact I'm heterosexual, which is really a moot point, because most women – gay, straight, confined to a hospital bed – would get naked with Angelina Jolie.)"

Okay, screw it. Now that I've pasted this much, I might as well paste the rest of the article ...

Inside, the magazine offered a visual aid – a full page with nine unflattering headshots including Oprah, Martha, Condi, as well as foxes Janet Reno, Margaret Thatcher and Madeline Albright – viscerally reminding men why they haven't been fantasizing about powerful ladies lately.

The article, written by Peter Wells, makes a good point: "If you're the kind of guy who sends shock waves through the stock market every time you clear your throat, Slavic models fresh out of high school will chain themselves to your mattress." Of course! It happens all the time in New York.

"And while politics may be show business for ugly people," Wells continues, "that doesn't mean that the misshapen lumps of flesh prowling Capitol Hill have trouble getting a date." Having worked on the Hill and dated some of these lumps, I can vouch that this is, sadly, the case.

"Ugly men who run the world have no trouble" scoring with women, concludes Wells. "So how come it doesn't work for the ladies?"


Maureen Dowd – a woman who's intimately familiar with clout (both having it and dating it) – believes that "the perfume of female power is a turnoff for men." In her 2005 book, "Are Men Necessary?" she quotes a New York Times friend of hers who, after receiving a Pulitzer, wails that she'll "never get a date now!" Rough life.

Ironically, it's Dowd herself – with both a Pulitzer and a well-documented history of getting dates – who proves this theory incorrect. Indeed, in a New York magazine profile (intriguingly enough, by Ariel Levy), she is described as a "utter and unreconstructed fox … men can't resist her."

Ah-ha! So it is possible to be an influential female with whom men want to copulate. Powerful and sexy need not remain mutually exclusive terms for women.

Of course I see the truth in Henry Kissinger's once-clever (now-clichéd) line about power being an aphrodisiac. And I see the point of the Details article – most men don't aspire to sleep with "powerful women." I even understand why Maureen Dowd believes that a woman with clout can intimidate men.

But all of this misses the point. If Condi Rice looked like Halle Barry, no amount of Secret Service protection could save her from being the most popular fantasy since a threesome with Jessica Alba and Adriana Lima.

In other words, women are turned on by power even absent good looks. Men, on the other hand, require looks above all else.

So it seems that Kissinger's quote could have used a qualifier. Let's try my version: Power, in men, is an aphrodisiac. In women, power may be an aphrodisiac – if they're young and/or sexually attractive, and if the man involved isn't intimidated.

Men would still find Gisele hot if she had Rupert Murdoch's money or Jack Welch's intelligence or Barack Obama's job. They might not ask her out, but they'd definitely want to sleep with her.

Which I guess wouldn't make it all that different from how they feel today."

By the way, I've met Kissinger, and power wasn't quite enough of an aphrodisiac. Then again, in his defense (sort of), he's a little past his prime. Even Bill Clinton wouldn't be a turn-on as an octagenarian.


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