It's like the bodies in Gloucester, a friend said yesterday of the fall of Sir Peter Harding, the Chief of the Defence Staff. 'There have been so many of these sex scandals, I've lost count.'

In the recent glut of exposes, the latest revelation may not seem to have much power to shock or disturb. Had it not been for the highly responsible and sensitive nature of his job, a public gorged on toe-sucking and two men in a bed will probably greet the tame- ish story of Sir Peter's affair, sold to the newspapers by his Spanish lover, the former Lady Buck, with little more than 'So what?'.

It all seems so drearily predictable. Middle-aged man and younger woman, love-blinded lechery pursues jiggery-pokery with greed-blinkered gold-digger - their story was old when Plautus dramatised it, and his epigraph may sum it up still. 'A donkey is led by the end of his nose ,' the Roman satirist wrote. 'And a man by the tip of that which makes him a man.'

Yet this time-worn explanation will not fully unravel the deeper impulses which drive today's people as they dance to the beat of the primeval drum. 'Gold-digging' may have been a more-than-adequate motive for any woman to sink her claws into a well-heeled man in times past. In almost every age before our own, the forces of law, custom, religion and morality all combined to prevent women from freely using the full range of their talents, or getting their hands on a chunk of ready cash any other way.

But in selling her story the lovely Bienvenida Perez-Blanco is no hapless casualty of a pre-feminist age. She had her welcome to the world in the Sixties, when the message was that every woman from Twiggy to Golda Meir could make it in her own right. A generation and more later, it is baffling and distressing to be reminded that the woman doggedly devoted to seeking money and significance entirely through a man has not died the death along with governesses, tweenies, and upstairs maids - the panoply of females devoted to servicing a way of life and an order of masculinity that are as outmoded now as hansom cabs and organ-grinders in the London streets.

Of course feminism respects women's choices, and honours the diversity of female resourcefulness in the face of an often still hostile and resistant world. Many would argue that while power still remains in male hands, the only way for women to get anywhere near it will be through a man. All's fair in love and the sex war, and men, the enemy, will always be fair game.

This version of events has no problems with the female adventuress, the bitch on the make. In the nature of our political, social and financial structures as they are, rather than as women might like them to be, the male will have the position, the clout, the money, and the freedom which will bear the bold charmer up like the wind under her wings. You can't fly like an eagle if you're rooting with turkeys, Americans say. Women like Salome, Delilah, the Empress Theodora, countless Eastern concubines, Anne Boleyn, even Wallis Simpson knew this long before feminism learnt how to talk turkey. As Bienvenida, so Hillary Clinton, some would even say. For like another famous La Presidenta before her, Eva Peron, where would Hillary be without the Big Man?

But let no one think that the gold-digger does not also work hard for what she gets. La Bienvenida we are told, formerly married to the 65-year-old ex-Tory MP Sir Antony Buck, has now reaped up to pounds 200,000 for the sale of her story.

She also enjoyed a 'champagne lifestyle' during her time with 60- year-old Sir Peter, which allowed her to run up pounds 700-worth of caviare in one sitting. With sexagenarians to look after on both sides, it can't have been easy, even with the help of Antonia de Sancha's publicist, Max Clifford.

But what she has sold is beyond price, as readers of Othello will recall: 'he that flinches from my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and leaves me poor indeed'. For Bienvenida has paid a heavy price for her moment in the limelight and her readies in the bank. Kiss-and-tell lovers may actually have less sex than their 'respectable sisters', as the great 19th-century courtesan 'Baby' Jordan used to boast: 'married women have to have sex when their husband chooses, I only make love when I choose.' Yet in the eyes of many they will never be seen as anything more than women for sexual use, Kleenex women, to use and throw away.

Nor is the damage confined to the professional bed pressers and happy hookers. Bienvenida (is it an accident that she sounds as if she was named after a naff Sixties boarding house?) confirms all the stalest cliches of female behaviour, starting with 'she screwed her way to fame'. And that hurts all women, everywhere.

Every high-profile gold digger undermines the work and worth of all the women trying their best to make it on their own. And until all women understand that the best way to get money, freedom and authority are through their own efforts, and not by association with a man, none of us will be free.