Women's Sex Scandals

Why are women rarely caught with their pants down? Rebecca Dana on the adultery gender divide. Plus, notable female affairs through history, from Princess Di to Ayn Rand.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Gia Carangi

Many call Gia Marie Carangi the world’s first supermodel. Her pretty face and way of modeling, however, were not the only things in Carangi’s life that gained media attention. In a famous photo shoot, she posed nude with makeup artist Sandy Linter, and the two developed a brief love affair. Carangi died of AIDS in 1986, at the age of 26. Angelina Jolie played her in a 1998 HBO biopic.

AP Photo

Princess Diana

Princess Di was said to have a series of paramours, during her marriage and after, sparking fierce tabloid interest. Her most memorable slip was a recorded phone conversation with another “romantic” friend, James Gilbey, when she described married life with Prince Charles as “torture” and complained of a lack of sex. Diana and Charles divorced in 1995, and the princess died two years later in a car accident with her beau Dodi Al-Fayed.

Getty Images

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great was famously rapacious during her reign as Empress of Russia. The monarch took many lovers, often elevating them to positions of power and then sending them off with a piece of her estate when she tired of them. A popular rumor held that Catherine’s 1796 death was the result of her efforts to copulate with a horse.

AP Photo

Sydney Biddle Barrows

The “Mayflower Madam” shocked the public when her true identity was revealed. By day, she was Sydney Biddle Barrows, a member of one of the country’s oldest families. By night, she ran the Finesse escort service in Manhattan. The women working for her prostitution ring brought in almost $1 million a year. In 1984, she pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution. Shortly thereafter, she published her bestselling autobiography Mayflower Madam. Candice Bergen played her in the film adaptation.

Bert Hardy, Picture Post/Getty Images)

Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman was considered a “perfect, wholesome beauty with an admirable personal life” until she paired up with Roberto Rossellini, a reckless Italian playboy, and director. The two met while Bergman was married. When Bergman became pregnant with Rossellini’s child, she left her husband and daughter to begin an open relationship with the director. In 1957, Ingrid left Roberto and married theatrical producer Lars Schmidt the following year.

Chris Pizzello / AP Photo

Heidi Fleiss

Heidi Fleiss was a self-proclaimed “madam to the stars.” She learned the tricks of the trade from legendary Beverly Hills madam Elizabeth Adams. After Adams' arrest in 1988, Fleiss used her celebrity connections to launch her own Los Angeles-based prostitution ring. Fleiss spent two years in jail in the 1990s for charges associated with her prostitution ring. In 2004, she sold the rights to her life story to Paramount Pictures for $5 million.

AP Photo

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand was a novelist well-known for her theories about sex and objectivism. She had a notorious open affair with the much younger Nathaniel Branden while still married to her husband. In 1958, her young lover set up the Nathaniel Branden Institute to study Rand’s philosophy. In the 1960s, Branden took up with young actress Patrecia Scott. When Rand found out, she wrote an article attacking Branden for “irrational behavior in his private life.”

AP Photo

Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID)

The Idaho congresswoman and well-known conservative who once bashed Bill Clinton for his extramarital affairs admitted to a six-year affair with a married rancher—who later worked for her congressional staff—in the 1980s. “I’ve asked for God’s forgiveness, and I’ve received it,” she said of the affair.

Arnaldo Magnani, Liaison / Getty Images

Meg Ryan

America’s sweetheart lost her title when she confirmed rumors of an affair with Proof of Life co-star Russell Crowe. Although she was married to actor Dennis Quaid at the time, she called the affair “liberating”—Quaid was also rumored to be a cheater—and said she got to do “what I guess I secretly wanted to do. Be totally under the radar and live my life." Ryan’s film career went on relatively unscathed.

AP Photo

Mary Kay Letourneau

Former schoolteacher Mary Kay Letourneau was convicted in 1997 of the statutory rape of one of her students, who was 13 years old. Letourneau was married at the time of the affair, but continued relations with the minor and eventually gave birth to two of his children. The couple married in 2005 after she served her time in prison and divorced her husband, and the former student became a legal adult.

Getty Images

Pokey Chatman

Pokey Chatman was the head women’s basketball coach at LSU, but resigned shortly after the university became aware of her alleged sexual relationships with a few of her players. She stepped down before the rumors and accusations exploded in the media, and merely said that her resignation “prompted speculation and rumors that far exceed my expectations.” In 2007, she signed on as assistant coach of the Moscow Spartak team.

Astrid Riecken, The Washington Times / Newscom

Rep Katherine Bryson (R-UT)

After being caught with a lover on a surveillance camera—which was set up by her husband to catch a burglar—Katherine Bryson of Utah called the video evidence an “abuse of power” because county employees were used to set up the equipment. Police investigators, however, cleared her husband of any wrongdoing.

AP Photo

BIllie Jean King

Billie Jean King is a tennis player who risked her athletic career when she made her relationship with another woman—her secretary Marilyn Barnett —public. She was the first prominent athlete to come out as a lesbian, and as a result she lost all of her endorsements. Eventually, Barnett filed a palimony lawsuit against her. King is now an advocate against sexism in sports.

Fotos International / Getty Images

Ali MacGraw

Ali MacGraw’s affair with King of Cool Steve McQueen forced the starlet to give up not only her marriage to head of Paramount Pictures, Robert Evans, but also her career. The affair began when the stars were filming The Getaway together. McQueen left his own marriage so the two could be together. Eventually, he and MacGraw divorced as well and she “fled Malibu” for Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Ron Sachs / Newscom

Jessica Cutler

Jessica Cutler was a congressional staff assistant for former Sen. Mike DeWine, but was fired in 2004 for describing sexual exploits with D.C.’s elite on her blog, Washingtonienne. She posed nude for Playboy in the wake of the scandal. In 2008, Cutler married bankruptcy lawyer Charles Rubio and the two had their first child in 2009.


LeAnn Rimes

While filming Northern Lights, LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian—both of whom were married at the time—developed a romantic relationship that carried off screen. While Cibrian at first denied the affair, videos of the two lovers kissing in public and sucking each other’s fingers were leaked. Cibrian’s wife, Brandi Glanville, ended up leaving him, and Rimes ended her marriage to Dean Sheremet as well.