Why, oh why, have the rates of sexually transmitted diseases been rising? In Canada the rate of syphilis has been increasing dramatically among the male homosexual population. In the United States the syphilis rate has increased in percentage terms but its incidence remains relatively rare.
Far more people have chlamydia and herpes. The increase in the number of cases of chlamydia has been astonishing. In 2009 more than 1,200,000 cases were reported. That would make over 400 per 100,000 of the population. In 1997 there were 540,000 cases. In 2009, by way of comparison, 300,000 cases of gonorrhea and 40,000 cases of syphilis were reported. Link here.
Researchers who look at these numbers are puzzled. They are especially puzzled that the safe sex message is not working.
Everyone knows because everyone has had it drummed into them, through public service messages to childhood sex education, that they must practice safe sex. That means, they must use a condom.
And yet, far too many people don’t. Canadian researchers are especially alarmed at the number of new cases of syphilis among gay men. If this group has not gotten the message, then what hope is there for the straight community? If the group at the highest risk is ignoring the safe sex mantra, it must mean something.
In America STDs seem more to be afflicting women. However many sexual partners women have, if they are still contracting chlamydia and herpes then clearly they are not using condoms.
If they have heard the message, then clearly they are ignoring it.
By implication, more STDs among women suggests that more and more women are experimenting with multiple partners. If so, they are following another of society’s messages to young women: explore your sexuality, live it to its fullest and its most spontaneous.
If society is sending two messages, then clearly many young people believe the sexual expression message to be more powerful than the safe sex message. In truth, they seem to be taking the safe sex message as lip service.
If the culture were really interested in preventing the spread of STDs, it could start by placing more value on monogamy and sexual exclusivity. Isn't monogamy even more effective than condoms in ensuring safe sex.
If the culture is not promoting monogamy as a deterrent to the transmission of STDs, then why should young people take the safe sex message seriously?
If you are telling women to explore their sexuality you will want to downplay the risk that more sexual partners and more kinks will expose them to. If you are telling women to explore their sexuality with men who are the most experienced sexually you are also telling them to hookup with the men who are most likely to be carrying STDs.
The drunken hookups that the sex-positive feminists are touting usually do not involve condoms.
It makes sense. Most women are disinclined to hookup under normal circumstances. To do something that they consider abnormal they often need to get drunk or stoned. They use chemistry to turn off their moral sense.
A woman who is doing something she knows she shouldn't be doing will not be thinking of safe sex. If she is thinking at all she will be thinking about getting it over with.
Young people have also received the message that they should aim at passionate intensity in their sexual encounters. Taking risks can be exciting, especially for young people who have desensitized by exposure to internet porn. If they are aiming at spontaneity, they are less likely to use a condom.
If the message of sexual liberation is at fault no one seems willing to say so. And no one is going to blame it on the individuals who practice unsafe sex.
The Canadian researchers who are alarmed by the spike in the number of cases of syphilis would rather blame it on internet dating.
They believe that when randy young people meet on line they are less likely to think about whether their partners are infected with STDs.
Obviously, this is appallingly lame thinking.
If you read through the National Post report you will see that there is very little, if any evidence, of a causal relationship between internet dating and STDs.
For example, if the research is focusing on the behavior of gay men it would need to demonstrate that before internet dating gay men were inclined against anonymous random sexual encounters.
If it should be the case that gay men were engaging in anonymous hookups before online dating, the causal relationship would fail.
Reporting on Jezebel, Erin Gloria Ryan finds the Canadian explanation more persuasive than I do. Of course, she, like the Canadians, is puzzled to discover that the safe sex message has not produced a tidal wave of safe sex.
But she is willing to entertain the idea that it has something to do with internet dating.
In her words:
Researchers in Canada are flummoxed a puzzling set of statistics — despite the fact that most people had a safe sex message shouted at them from a young age, instances of certain sexually transmitted diseases have increased dramatically in the last decade or so. According to some experts the STDstravaganza can be blamed on online dating, and the false sense of intimacy and trust meeting people online can foster. Because nothing says "I don't have the clap" like a flirtatious email exchange.
Here she almost sounds ironic, and let’s hope that she is. I fear, however, that she is not.
Those who favor the internet dating explanation tend also to refer to the sexual behavior of an older cohort. That would be older, just divorced, women who do not use condoms because they cannot get pregnant.
These women tend to be especially apt to use internet dating sites. Ergo…
If we are looking for a catchy concept to comprise this group, let’s call them Cougars. It seems to amuse everyone to think of these women as sexual predators.
Surely, these women are old and wise enough to know the risks of unsafe sex. Yet, they too are receiving a mixed message. Yes, they should practice safe sex, but in the media and on television show after television show they are being told that they are unspeakably hot and that they should seek sexual fulfillment in the bed of a much younger man.
Hot sex with a younger man is a Cougar’s consolation prize after divorce. It seems that these women have been more than happy to embrace the message.
Apparently, they have decided that the hottest of hot sex is somehow going to be less piping hot if a condom enters the equation.
If they are dating older men, that is, men who are less than piping hot, then they are likely to avoid condoms for fear of turning their aging partners off.
Safe sex is one message that is out there. It has not gotten through because it is not the only message out there.
The culture has been promoting the message that sex is a good thing, that sex defines who you are, that more sex is better, that sex is merely about feeling pleasure, that more sexual experimentation is a good thing, that sex contributes to your emotional and physical well-being, that sex need not take place within a committed relationship, and that the risk of contracting an STD can be trivialized by using a condom.
The safe sex message has been drowned by the sex-is-good message. It has also been drowned by the sex-is-good-for-you message.
Culture warriors cannot promote more sex by scaring people with discussions of health risks and venereal infections. They are not going to emphasize the dangers that lurk in sexual experimentation. They are going to send a mixed message that will end up obscuring the cost of sexual experimentation. And yet, their safe-sex message will serve one purpose: they will not have to feel responsible for the bad things that happen when people follow their advice.