New research has identified an increased likelihood of criminal sexual behavior among celebrities who cheat on their partners. The findings, published in Sexuality & Culture, suggest that unresolved sexual frustration can manifest in harmful behaviors among celebrities.
Despite the extensive media coverage of celebrities’ sexual behaviors, there has been a dearth of comprehensive criminological studies that systematically investigate these behaviors among a large sample of celebrities. While public perception and legal implications have been explored, authors of the new study aimed to contribute to a more nuanced understanding by conducting a thorough analysis of actual behaviors and their potential motivations.
“More and more incidents of celebrities committing sexual misconduct have been in the headlines recently,” explained study co-author Hannah Rae Evans, an initiative coordinator at Indian Rivers Behavioral Health.
“Examples from just this year include Trump’s civil trial for sexual assault and a lawsuit against the singer Lizzo that alleges she sexually harassed her own dancers. These individuals, and many other celebrities like them, have millions of people who follow them on social media, look up to them, and may potentially model their behavior after them. Holding celebrities accountable for their abuses of power is more common since #MeToo, but more research is needed because they have so much power and influence.”
The researchers drew inspiration from sexual frustration theory, which holds that sexual frustration is a complex phenomenon influenced not only by biological factors but also by psychological and cultural factors. These can include feelings of entitlement, ego, unrealistic expectations, and societal pressures.
Just as frustration in other areas of life can lead to negative emotions and behaviors, sexual frustration is thought to contribute to aggression, impulsivity, and other negative outcomes. This can extend to behaviors such as infidelity, sexual harassment, and even criminal activities.
The researchers hypothesized that celebrities, despite their seemingly privileged sexual opportunities, might experience sexual frustration due to high expectations, entitlement, and exposure to alluring stimuli.
“After the emergence of the #MeToo movement, I realized that sexual abuse seemed to be occurring at frightening levels among celebrities,” co-author Austin Bowling, a law student at The University of Alabama, told PsyPost. “This made me wonder why they, out of all people, would engage in this type of behavior when it seemed the entire world was at their fingertips? When I learned of Dr. Lankford’s sexual frustration theory in one of my classes, I was further intrigued, especially in regard to celebrities who were so-called ‘sex addicts.’”
The researchers wanted to shed light on how fame, power, and sexual frustration might influence celebrity behavior, contributing to a better understanding of the complexities surrounding these issues. To this end, they first identified the 200 most famous individuals in the United States using YouGov’s surveys, which gauge public perceptions on various subjects including celebrities.
For each celebrity in the sample, which included 126 men and 74 women, the researchers conducted extensive searches of open-source documents such as media reports, books, primary sources, and publicly released information. They aimed to determine whether there was evidence indicating the celebrities had engaged in infidelity, sexual harassment, sexual assault, or solicitation of sex workers.
The researchers established two standards for categorizing evidence, one being a “low estimate” where only strong evidence was considered, and the other being a “high estimate” where even allegations with less definitive evidence were included.
Based on this methodology, approximately 34-53% of the celebrities were involved in infidelity, while 24-31% engaged in at least one type of sexual crime. Specifically, 18-24% committed sexual harassment, 7-11% committed sexual assault, and 6-10% solicited sex workers.
The researchers found that male celebrities were more likely to engage in infidelity and sexual crimes compared to female celebrities. Celebrity men were two to three times more likely to cheat on their partners and four to six times more likely to commit at least one type of sex crime compared to celebrity women. The same trend was observed when comparing specific offenses like sexual harassment, sexual assault, and solicitation of sex workers.
The results indicated that celebrity cheaters were significantly more likely to commit sexual crimes than those who remained faithful to their partners. This association was primarily driven by celebrity men, as there was no statistically significant relationship between infidelity and sexual crimes for women.
“We found strong evidence, using multiple approaches, that celebrities who cheat on their romantic partner are also much more likely to commit sexual harassment or sexual assault, or to solicit a sex worker,” said co-author Adam Lankford, a professor of criminology at The University of Alabama.
“That’s interesting, psychologically, because it suggests these behaviors share some underlying cause. It’s also interesting for anyone who pays attention to the headlines. Now when I see a politician or celebrity who is known to have cheated on his spouse and is being accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault, I am less likely to believe his claims of innocence.”
To further address their research questions, the researchers compared the sexual behaviors of celebrities with those of the general U.S. population. They found that celebrities engaged in infidelity more frequently than the average American adult, regardless of the standard of evidence used. This difference was particularly pronounced when comparing celebrity men with the average American man.
There was also some evidence that male celebrities were more prone to soliciting sex workers compared to men in the general U.S. population. This result was significant when using high estimates but didn’t demonstrate the same robustness across different estimates.
“One of our findings pointed to celebrity men potentially being more likely to solicit sex workers than men in the U.S. general population,” Evans said. “Many celebrities have an abundance of wealth and resources that affords them the opportunity to pay for sex, but they also have ‘groupies’ or fans that would readily have sex with them for free. This makes it surprising that celebrities would pay for a sexual experience.”
Sexual frustration theory provides a framework that ties together the study’s findings and offers insights into why celebrities, particularly male celebrities, might exhibit certain sexual behaviors. For example, the theory suggests that men tend to experience higher levels of sexual frustration due to societal expectations, higher sex drives, and different attitudes towards casual sex. This is in line with the observed gender differences.
While the study provides valuable insights into the behaviors of celebrities in relation to sexual transgressions, there are some limitations to note. For example, the underreporting of sex crimes could lead to an underestimation of the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Despite the increased awareness brought about by movements like #MeToo, there remains a likelihood that the actual incidence of these behaviors is higher than what the data reflects.
“The dark figure of crime (which refers to unreported offenses), is particularly worrying in the case of celebrities because they have the resources to cover up or settle allegations against them, and their positions make it harder for victims to come out against them due to their power and influence,” Bowling said. “Hopefully more research and media coverage on the sexual misconduct of celebrities will allow for justice for the victims affected by these tragedies.”
The study, “Celebrity Infidelity and Sex Crimes: An Empirical Investigation of Cheating, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, and Solicitation“, was published July 6, 2023.