My father's girlfriend is young enough to be me

Chelsea Clinton now has to confront her sexuality in relation to her father.
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HOW WOULD you feel if your dad had an affair with a girl young enough to be you? For Chelsea Clinton, by far the most uncomfortable aspect of her father's inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky may be the White House intern's youth.

The cases I have encountered suggest that there will be short-term emotional damage, at least. One patient's father had worked his way through most of the girls in her school when she was 15 years old. The more he did it, the more anxious she became about his intentions towards her (thankfully, he never did touch her). Another patient discovered her father in coitus with the 16-year-old daughter of a family friend. Not surprisingly, it put her off men for quite a few years.

Chelsea will have been forced by the media coverage to picture Lewinsky performing oral sex on her father. Few children like to think of their parents as sexual beings at all, let alone to have to contemplate specifics. At best, she will be able to make a joke of it, at worst it will disgust and horrify. But these are only the emotions of which she will be conscious.

When small, all children express their unfocused, more or less unconscious, libidinal desires towards parents, as part of the somewhat random flow of emotion and sensuality that being a baby and toddler entails. They soon learn that explicitly genital contact must be repressed and from then on, are repulsed by the idea.

In Chelsea's case, having a distant, unavailable but charismatic and handsome father makes him even more of a potential object of desire than usual. Little girls with such fathers often flirt as a way of getting their attention. It is possible that Chelsea actually feels competitive with Lewinsky, jealous even. If so, she may feel intense guilt, which could lead to psychiatric symptoms (like obsessions or hysteria) which symbolise her wicked, forbidden wishes.

This being America, she may also have begun to worry that her father has been sexually abusive to her in the past or to re-evaluate the relationship. If he could act "inappropriately" with Lewinsky, what might have happened between him and her?

Lewinsky's age is likely to be far more of a problem than the humiliation of her parents. It is extremely rare for driven, workaholic men to be much at home during their offspring's early childhood. Chelsea will perceive him as a remote figure who has been in very public and substantial trouble - often because of sexual peccadillos - from as early as she can remember. If he screws up it happens to him, not unconsciously to her, because she is not identified with him.

His career may seem more like a soap opera that she occasionally tunes into. If Daddy's career goes wrong it only affects her real life if the family finances do likewise. Otherwise, she may read about him in the paper or see him on the telly but the plot developments of his career may seem to be largely unconnected with her first-hand experience.

Although Hillary may not have been around much in childhood either, the chances are that Chelsea is more identified with her. To the extent that Hillary does feel humiliated, Chelsea may too, but there are good reasons to doubt Hillary does feel like this. Their relationship is of a kind that is common in business and political culture where wives accept that their husbands are unfaithful.

The very successfulness of such men is often an attempt to compensate for feelings of powerlessness or personal inadequacy. Addicted to conquest in the workplace, they are unable to switch off their Will To Power. Domination of subordinate and sometimes admiring women buttresses their fragile egos when there are no deals to be done.

Although it is claimed that Hillary did not know the truth about the Lewinsky affair, if the novel Primary Colors (allegedly about the Clintons) is to be believed, she knows all too well that her husband's sexual adventures are a permanent time-bomb.

Most probably her feeling about the matter is merely of annoyance that he has been caught out, not that the nation looks on her as a betrayed woman. Humiliation may be a card the spin doctors play to create sympathy, not because she truly feels it. Chelsea would not be much troubled by a non-existent embarrassment in her mother.

Of only one thing can we be confident amidst the speculation. Chelsea Clinton will have been shaken by the inappropriateness of her father's choice of sexual partner.