Sex and Leadership

It is telling that despite the fact that the ideas of Sigmund Freud were discredited some forty years ago, his unsubstantiated theory that sexual repression lies at the root of most of our mental anguish remains embedded in western culture. The myth that only total sexual liberation – more exposure, more sex education, more novelty, more indulgence – will provide the personal fulfillment we seek has reduced postmodern society to a techno-powered Sodom and Gomorrah, with all the attendant suffering.

The extent to which Freud was wrong is readily seen in the fact that the Sexual Revolution has coincided with the breakdown of the family, the objectification of women, the burgeoning mental health crisis, the slew of social dysfunction, and of course, the leadership crisis that now hamstrings every sector of society.

Far from improving our psychological, physical, and material well-being, the Sexual Revolution has left it in tatters.

The reality is that the detached, self-centered individual of postmodern secular society, unbound by the norms of family, community, and tradition, has no moral compass other than his or her own will, with cold utilitarian calculation providing self-justification whenever necessary. Any harm, physiological, psychological, or socio-economic, done to self or others in the pursuit of sexual gratification, is generally glossed over in this milieu of self-absorption unless it can be used to destroy a politician or celebrity in a blaze of media sensation.

What is a leader to do? A return to puritanism would be as destructive as the regnant promiscuity. Both amount to a denial of what it means to be human, and are therefore inimical to human flourishing. The first arises from the belief that perverse human nature must be shamed and shackled, the second from the wholly unscientific idea that there is no such thing as a set human nature, and that we can engineer humanity to be whatever we want it to be. Both are totalitarian expedients.

It is only through our understanding of human nature that we are able to posit human rights in the first place, confident in our knowledge of what is good for human beings and what is bad for them. And sex is an undeniable good for human nature, an essential part of the very beautiful experience we know as romantic love, or Eros, which is mysteriously linked with the creative instinct that drives us to seek wholeness in the true, the good, and the beautiful.

By the same token, human nature makes it clear that sex also gives rise to the many dangers discussed above. Few people in positions of authority are prepared to acknowledge the obvious reality that many of the seemingly intractable problems of postmodern society, social, economic, political, and cultural, are related to the perversion, trivialization, and commercialization of sex since the 1960s.

The only answer for leaders lies in the virtues essential to human flourishing – practical wisdom, courage, justice, self-control, faith, hope, and love. Practical wisdom is choosing what is good for people according to reason and experience; courage is standing firm on principles according to the standards set by practical wisdom; justice is protecting and supporting the many victims of the Sexual Revolution; self-control is saying no to self when indulgence would harm others; faith is acknowledging a higher law that transcends human laws and seeks the good of all; hope is persevering in the face of intimidating odds; and love is working for the good of every person as defined by human nature. Sex is good with virtue, and degrading without it.

Whatever we do, the challenge of sex is not going to go away. Lust, infidelity, prostitution, pornography, and the like, will continue to challenge humanity now and in the future. The only real difference between postmodern secular society and past cultures is that whereas they all tried in one way or another to guard against the obvious dangers sex poses, our society chooses to actively promote promiscuity and perversion, with predictable consequences.

Human sexuality is a big part of who we are as individuals and as a society. Just how positive or negative a part is up to us. Leadership, like virtue, is not about repressing sex; it’s about making it the good it was intended to be.


Andre van Heerden
Andre van Heerden
ANDRE heads the corporate leadership program The Power of Integrity, and is the author of three books on leadership, Leaders and Misleaders, An Educational Bridge for Leaders, and Leading Like You Mean It. He has unique qualifications for addressing the leadership crisis. Since studying law at Rhodes University, he has been a history teacher, a deputy headmaster, a soldier, a refugee, an advertising writer, a creative director, an account director on multinational brands, a marketing consultant, and a leadership educator. He has worked in all business categories on blue-chip brands like Toyota, Ford, Jaguar, Canon, American Express, S C Johnson, Kimberley Clark, and John Deere, while leadership coaching has seen him help leaders and aspirant leaders in Real Estate, Retail, the Science Sector, Local Government, Education, Food Safety, Banking, and many other areas.

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  1. Thank you for this well documented and interesting article. I love how much detail and background you provided before you got to any of the conclusions. Discussions of this nature are usually shut down because those who might disagree with you put forth arguments stating that facts regarding fatherless children are racist or that there is intent to shame women who choose to raise children alone. The facts that you cite remain facts, and they need to be recognized. Sex, as you point out is a great and wonderful gift, when it isn’t a compulsion, addiction or used abusively. The unintended consequences of anything that is not in balance is a topic not adequately addressed by a culture that wants what it wants and cannot stand to have its freedom questioned in any regard. Excellent discussion, here, Andre, a really well done piece of documentary exposition.

  2. You deserve my unqualified support for the views expressed in this outstanding article, Andre Sir! I especially like, and strongly endorse the specific part, in your own words, “Sex is good with virtue, and degrading without it.”

    In my under-informed opinion, there are many different elements that directly contribute to this unhealthy compromise of values. Not just money or position, it is the general belief of male superiority that exemplifies sexual misconduct wherever you go.

    While sex education, the growing focus of school curriculum, may make a nominal difference, I believe we need to focus more on female empowerment. More and more women occupying positions of strategic significance at a global level would create a sense of the amazing capabilities women possess. Alas, they leave it unharnessed due to social taboos of one kind or another.

    The ball now is in your readers’ court to take necessary corrective steps!


  3. Great Andre! I am a billion light years away from the 16th–17th century bigotry of the Pilgrim Fathers. But at this age, I am well aware that if something goes too far, in all things of life, you end up losing the sense of proportion. And you can expect all sort of “miseries” as a result. Which is exactly what happens in the era we live in. So Andre is right in my view: “is up to us.” – Like leadership… “it’s about making it the good it was intended to be.” – Thank you Andre. Thank you very much for your article. Thank You Dennis!

  4. There is so much I could say about this factual and sensitive article. I have nothing to add except that we’ve opened the door and looked the other way in the name of freedom to do what we choose without regard to consequences. In fact, the consequences of sexual indiscretions have horrendous fallout for relationships, corporations, institutions, and communities for generations. There are warnings all around but we believe the fairy tale.