'Sexus Politicus' Grips France

The French are learning quite a bit these days about their political leaders' sex lives.

What has been a subject of discussion at French dinner tables for some time has become the central line of a new book. Just seven months ahead of the presidential election here, the book "Sexus Politicus" rides high on the lists of books bought in France, with 150,000 copies sold so far.

The authors, veteran investigative reporters Christophe Deloire and Christophe Dubois, paint a broad picture of the connection between politics and sex in France. After a two-year investigation, the authors have exposed the private details of some of France's ruling class.

Did President Chirac have a child with a Japanese mistress? And did Chirac and his Socialist predecessor, Fran├žois Mitterand, have a lover in common?

Apart from being remembered as the longest-serving president of France, Mitterand is also known as the first French president to publicly acknowledge the existence of a daughter born out of wedlock, Mazarine.

The popular French magazine Paris Match broke the news in 1994, just months before Mitterand left office, and both of his families attended his funeral. Thanks to the book, we now know that Mitterand was far from the first.

Shocking? Not necessarily in France.

"It's not because they are politicians that they can't have extramarital affairs. It happens to anybody. Why not them?" said Charlotte Gremaud, 26, who lives just outside Paris. "There are millions of French husbands cheating on their wives, and vice versa," said Paris citizen Patrick Nebout, 45. "Politicians are just like regular people. They do the same."

Despite the book's success, many won't openly admit that they're interested in learning more about their high-powered politicians' sex lives.

"I don't care about our politicians' private lives," said Benjamin Barois, 22, from northern France.

"There is a politically correct attitude that you're not supposed to care whom the president of the republic is sleeping with," said Ted Stanger, former Newsweek Paris bureau chief and author of a best seller, "Sacred French." "But the French are indeed interested in knowing who sleeps with who, although they pretend not to be interested."

The French don't necessarily disapprove of extramarital affairs. "The French make a distinction between morality and sex. They don't consider that sexual expression outside their marriage is an act of immorality," Stanger said. "I think this comes from their sheer history. Kings of France were routinely considered to be able to have sex with any women they chose. France never really joined in the very prudish and moralizing Victorian age the British had," he said.

Historically, as seen from the outside, the French are known for their extramarital affairs. "But this is in association of being such a romantic country where there is more passion," said Clint Howarth, 31, from Boston.

But said Stanger, "We no longer see that many extramarital affairs, because French couples have been separating and divorcing quite easily. The French don't have more extramarital affairs than the Americans or others."

A perfect example of how the French handle their politicians' extramarital activities can be seen in attitudes toward the leading Socialist Party candidates, and those running on the UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) ticket for the governing party nominations in next year's presidential election.

The Socialist candidate Segolene Royal is not married to the father of her four children. UMP's Nicolas Sarkozy saw his marriage make headlines after Paris Match published a cover photo of Mme. Sarkozy and her supposed lover on vacation in New York.

And here, no one seemed to mind.

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