Every day until the election, we’re introducing you to one character or issue whose fate centers around the political state of sex and gender. We’ll discover which freedoms are at stake, what battles are being fought and what sex in a free country really looks like, all in honor of unfucking a system that seems increasingly hellbent on fucking up fucking. Welcome, everybody, to UnFuck America.
Imagine you’re at work, just another day at the office. You accidentally hit the wrong button on the elevator, and when the doors open, you instantly realize it isn’t your floor. It’s not the different carpeting that gives it away; it’s the blonde woman running around naked, her pronounced breasts swinging as she strides.
Shows like Mad Men and other pieces of pop culture tell us that was life for many employees during the early 1960s. In this case, however, the workplace wasn’t a Madison Avenue office building. It was the White House.
Such astonishing stories of illicit conduct on the part of American history’s most powerful men is what Eleanor Herman’s new book, Sex With Presidents: The Ins and Outs of Love and Lust in the White House, is all about. Inside its hallowed pages, you’ll find stories about JFK, who, in addition to fucking secretaries — and letting them parade nude around our nation’s most iconic and vital political work hub — also banged sex workers, mob-boss mistresses and, likely, spies in the White House. Among Herman’s other unsurprising subjects are Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson (as well as his tremendous johnson). Warren G. Harding’s propensity to impregnate and Dwight Eisenhower’s side piece (who was also his driver) are fondly remembered as well.
Herman drifts outside the White House with her subject matter too, chronicling sex-driven controversies of other political figures, like Alexander Hamilton, as well as some cases involving government leaders abroad. And, just in time for Election Day, there’s also a comprehensive rundown of our Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief’s dalliances, deceits and alleged misconduct.
This isn’t Herman’s first deep dive into the sexual behaviors among the ruling class. She leveraged a lifelong interest in European history to write previous books like Sex With Kings, Sex With the Queen and Mistress of the Vatican, about Olimpia Maidalchini, who Herman dubbed “The Secret Female Pope.” Along the way, she’s developed a theory about powerful people, particularly men, and their sexualities: The way they conduct themselves in the bedroom can reflect their emotional status, as well as how they might wield their power.
Moreover, she argues, “if a man is overly sexual and takes great risks in his sex life, as many of these presidents did, it could be a symptom of a psychological disorder.” She lists narcissism, hubris syndrome and even bipolar disorder as possible diagnoses for some of our presidents — past and present. Perhaps no president in our nation’s history has better modeled these connections than Donald Trump, who was declared a “malignant narcissist” in 2017 by nearly 60,000 mental health professionals around the world across two petitions.
“He had certain psychological disorders well before he became president, but once he got this tremendous amount of power, I think he’s now suffering from hubris syndrome,” Herman says. “People with hubris syndrome think that they’re God-appointed, they don’t listen to the advice of their counselors and it goes on and on. Sex is a part of that.”
Trump has been unfaithful to each of his three wives, and at least some of the time doesn’t wear condoms during sex, a detail that emerged from the Stormy Daniels episode. Herman — who says researching and writing the chapter dedicated to Trump made her “depressed” — sees a correlation between his refusal to wear a condom during intercourse with new partners and his unwillingness to wear a mask during the pandemic. Both are dangerous and show a lack of concern for his health and, more importantly, as a leader, the wellbeing of others. (Trump has also been accused several times of outright sexual assault, something he himself boasted about on the infamous Access Hollywood pussy-grabber tape.)
Stories about 19th-century figures in Sex With Presidents, like Hamilton, Jefferson and Grover Cleveland, were widely published in contemporary newspaper tabloids, which Herman consulted for the book, and in the 20th century, tell-all books like The President’s Daughter, about Nan Britton’s relationship with Harding that spawned a child, were published — though oftentimes after the president in question had died. The tell-all book trend especially picked up steam around the time Watergate was making headlines. In 1973, FDR’s son Elliott released a book that hinted at his father’s relationship with a secretary. Two years later, former presidential dog sitter Traphes Bryant published a memoir about his period working in the White House, including that time he meant to press the elevator button for “basement” and wound up seeing a naked Kennedy secretary in a hallway. Stories about Eisenhower, Johnson and other presidents also emerged, and by the time Bill Clinton came around as a presidential candidate in the early 1990s, the press had reverted back toward a focus on tabloid fodder — and, boy, did Bubba reward them.
Still, Herman counts Kennedy as the president whose behavior most upset her during her research because of his disrespect toward his wife. Jackie and JFK kept separate bedrooms in the White House, which wasn’t out of the ordinary for first couples. But John would sometimes have sex with his mistresses in Jackie’s bed, and did little to cover up the trysts. Instead, he would brazenly leave behind incriminating evidence, like pairs of panties, for her to discover. “It’s as if he wanted to degrade and humiliate her,” Herman says. (According to one source in Herman’s book, prior to the pair becoming betrothed, Jackie found John’s “appeal to other women tantalizing… but once she was married and once it was happening to her, it was much harder to accept.”)
The sex, of course, isn’t the problem here. It’s the infidelity — and being a meanspirited dick about it to boot. After all, sex generally makes “life a bit more pleasurable,” providing people in power “something to look forward to everyday when the weight of the world is on your shoulders.”
Given this context, perhaps more Americans would be forgiving of our leaders if they just came clean about sexual improprieties like cheating instead of lying about it. Better still would be politicians who have figured out how to have healthier sex lives with their long-term partners and who are willing to communicate that fact with the larger public — it might make them wife-guy-in-chief, but it also sends the still-very-much-needed message that sex isn’t something you should be ashamed of (or lose your job over). “When you look back on the history of all these men and their stories, the best thing for them to do is to just tell the truth,” Herman says.
After all, as Clinton found out, in this puritanical land of ours, being a presidential fuccboi can definitely be an impeachable offense.