In non-Spitzer sex news...

Elizabeth's picture

What a day! Eliot Spitzer resigned. Melissa Farley, Tracy Quan and Dina Matos McGreevey appeared on the same New York Times Op Ed page. And in other news we learn that at least 25% of teenage girls are infected with STIs.

I've been looking, albeit briefly, for the actual study that the Times reported on today, and so far I haven't found it. The Times story was reporting on a news conference at a scientific meeting in Chicago, and the data come from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, so it's possible the report itself hasn't been released. In any case, I want to raise a few concerns about the coverage in the Times, not about the study itself.

First, the Times coverage doesn't report on differences bewteen the age categories dow,. It reports on data that covers girls fro 14-19. Now, it could be that STIs are evenly distributed across those six years, but I doubt it. I'd guess that girls between 17-19 are much more likely to be infected than are girls between 14-16.

Second, the coverage is prone to "awfulizing" the situation. Take this statement, for example:

Each disease can be serious in its own way. HPV, for example, can cause cancer and genital warts.

I don't say this to minimize the seriousness of STIs at all, but rather to point out that the media is often prone to fanning panics by lumping dissimilar things together. For example this story lumps an awful thing (cancer) together with a less-than-awful thing (warts). And it lumps together 19-year-olds with HPV and 14-year-olds with Herpes.

Still, the study's findings are alarming, and not just because of the rates of STI incidence among young women, but also because the findings indicate that African American girls particularly are at significantly greater risk than are white girls (50% of African American girls have at least one STI while only 20% of white girls do).

We know that abstinance-only "education" is not really education. We know that lots of infections go undetected because of shame or embarrassment on the one hand, or because of lack of access to health care services on the other.

We need free or very low cost reproductive health care, we need condom ads that make condoms cool, and we need comprehensive sex ed in schools.

We need these things much more than we need moralizing about Eliot Spitzer's use of the Emperor's club, which actually reinforces the shame around all but the most normative sex and which as a result makes serious sex issues even harder to address.