Eight Secrets to Avoiding a Sex Scandal

So you’re a straying politician who doesn’t want to end up in the tabloids. Don’t date an employee, and do use birth control! Ex-madam Kristin Davis and the founder of Ashley Madison offer a guide to getting away with it.

05.27.11 10:12 PM ET

It’s no secret that Americans have the highest rate of divorce in the Western world; at least one study has found that 60 percent of men and half of women will cheat on their spouses at some point during their lives. But if cheating happens so often, why haven’t we gotten any better at doing it? From Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife is leaving him over a secret child, to former presidential candidate John Edwards, who allegedly paid off his mistress using campaign funds, to the text-happy Tiger Woods, let’s hope America’s cheating husbands and wives have taken a hint on what not to do.

But in case they haven’t, we went straight to the experts—including the founder of Ashley Madison and an ex-madam—for a foolproof guide on how not to get caught having illicit sex. (Not that we’re endorsing such behavior, of course.) From finding the right partner to not leaving a paper trail, The Daily Beast offers eight dos and don’ts to successful hanky-panky.

1. Find the Right Partner, Part 1

DON’T: Shack up with a single man or woman—they might form an attachment or expect you to leave your spouse for them.

DO: Find another married person. It’s like the old Cold War doctrine of “ Mutually Assured Destruction,” says Noel Biderman, who founded the affair-facilitating service Ashley Madison: If both parties have something to lose, they’re less likely to spill the beans. Tell your partner you’re married. “With a single person, you meet, you hit it off, and then they soon find out you’re already taken—all bets are off,” says Biderman. “They feel conned.”

ALLEGED OFFENDERS: John Edwards ( Rielle Hunter)

2. Find the Right Partner, Part 2

DON’T: Let sparks fly with a close friend, co-worker, or employee. “These things always end badly,” Biderman says. “It comes with ancillary and collateral damages. The worst place to have an affair is in the workplace or circle of influence.” But don’t go cruising for totally random, anonymous sex either—there’s too much danger of a sting or, in the case of a famous politician, being recognized.

DO: Find a stranger you can trust—or an escort, if that’s what you’re looking for.

ALLEGED OFFENDERS: Bill Clinton, former Sen. John Ensign, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Sen. Larry Craig.

3. Communicate Covertly

DON’T: Leave a paper trail—virtual or physical. That means everything from text messages, voice mails, and calls on a cellphone to mysterious charges on a phone bill to emails. “You might as well be walking around with it pasted to your forehead,” says Lauren Tallman, author of How to Have an Affair and Not Get Caught. “Don’t keep pretty and nice emails on your computer. Delete, delete, delete.”

DO: Get a prepaid cellphone or use a pay phone. Make sure phone bills are sent to your office. And cover your tracks. “In this era, lipstick on your collar has been replaced by digital lipstick in the form of a text message you leave behind,” Biderman says.

ALLEGED OFFENDERS: Tiger Woods, Sen. David Vitter, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

4. Spend Money Wisely

DON’T: Use a credit card or personal checks, or draw money from an account shared with your spouse. Kristin Davis, who worked as a madam in Manhattan for years and claims to have supplied escorts to Eliot Spitzer, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and others, says many men follow this rule to begin with before letting their discipline slide. “If the girl’s that charming and they’re enjoying their time, they want to add an extra hour and have to use a credit card,” Davis says. “Men are motivated by their penises, and that makes them throw caution to the wind.” And a special consideration for politicians: Don’t use taxpayer dollars to pay for rendezvous.

DO: Get a separate bank account from your spouse and pay with either cash or a prepaid debit card. As with phone bills, major expenses or bills for jewelry and other gifts are a dead giveaway.

ALLEGED OFFENDERS: Former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford.

5. Take Care of the Details

DON’T: Have a child out of wedlock—even the Governator was only able to keep that quiet for 14 years. If you’re using an escort service, don’t treat the sex worker poorly. Davis says she was conscientious about keeping her clients’ identities quiet, but was willing to play a little looser if a john was abusive. “You need to have an understanding that this is a service and you wouldn’t be abusive toward your doctor, who’s providing you a service,” she says. Likewise, it’s a bad idea to annoy an escort who could reveal what you’re up to.

DO: Use birth control.

ALLEGED OFFENDERS: Schwarzenegger, Strauss-Kahn.

6. Keep Your Name Quiet

DON’T: Brag about who you are. “The biggest thing to be concerned about is to not have the Spitzer effect: Do not let your ego get in the way,” Davis says. “I had many clients call up and tell me who they are and say, ‘Google me.’ They wanted me to be impressed. Maybe they thought I’d send them a better girl. At the end of the day that’s not smart.”

DO: Use a pseudonym.

ALLEGED OFFENDERS: No big names…yet.

7. Stay Discreet

DON’T: Obviously, you shouldn’t spread the word around. But as a famous person, there’s greater risk of being recognized. Don’t dare the press to catch you in an indiscretion either. Don’t have your lover bail you out on a DUI charge.

DO: Make sure your paramour isn’t wearing a wire.

ALLEGED OFFENDERS: Bill Clinton, Gary Hart, Vito Fossella.

8. Keep Others Out of It

DON’T: Use campaign funds to pay for your lover to be set up in a cushy house—it turns out that’s illegal. Don’t have your parents shell out $96,000 to your ex-lover’s family either. And don’t try to arrange a job for your lover (or his/her husband or wife), especially in government.

DO: Cross your fingers you don’t get caught.

ALLEGED OFFENDERS: John Edwards, John Ensign, James McGreevey.

David Graham is a reporter for Newsweek covering politics, national affairs, and business. His writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The National in Abu Dhabi.