Birds, bees and STDs

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(Host) Signs of spring are everywhere and commentator Nils Daulaire is thinking about the birds and the bees – and STDs.

(Daulaire) Spring is all about one thing. In the woods and fields around my house up on Royalton Hill, birds are noisily getting to the business on every creature’s mind: romance. Stepping outside with my morning coffee, I’m overwhelmed by the dawn crescendo of mood music, smooth lines and wolf whistles.

Spring’s that way for humans, too. In neighborhoods and college campuses from Burlington to Boston, young people are putting speakers out on porch roofs, throwing back-yard parties, applying suntan lotion.

As Tennyson pointed out, in spring, young peoples’ fancies turn lightly to thoughts of love. Maybe a little too lightly nowadays, according to a recent study of sex practices among Americans aged 18 to 35 conducted by the American Social Health Association.

Human sexual behavior can be a window of opportunity for infectious organisms. Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, from stealthy infections – such as chlamydia, syphilis and the AIDS virus – thrive on unprotected sex.
We’re three decades into the AIDS epidemic, and what initially seemed like a new era of awareness and openness about STDs and prevention. Yet this survey found that more than two-thirds of its young respondents are not really worried about contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
Maybe that’s because 93 percent of them believed their current or most recent sexual partner didn’t have an STD. But, since a third had never even discussed STDs with their partners, how would they know?

Nearly 84 percent of these young people think they adequately protect themselves against infection – yet half never use condoms. What these young people don’t know about sexual safety can change – or even cost them – their lives.

This study indicates that we need to rethink our educational efforts, especially when it comes to the how and why of safer sex.

Unfortunately, some seem determined to exploit the hot-button topic of human sexuality as a political “wedge” issue. They’d like to answer the global disaster of AIDS with fire-and-brimstone messages and abstinence-only campaigns; to warn young people about the dangers of sex – but warn them away from condoms.

We all benefit from holding high ideals. But ignoring the realities of human sexual behavior cannot be the basis for a workable health policy. Far from respecting human life, this polemic approach cheapens it and puts it at risk.

It’s important to teach sexual responsibility and ethics. That’s what I call good parenting. Another part of good parenting is realism. And that includes the recognition that virtue isn’t the only factor in the mating game – other powerful forces of human nature engage as well.

Perhaps the opponents of condoms and proponents of abstinence-only need to reflect a bit on the power of those forces the next time they take a walk in the tumultuous morning spring air filled with the sounds of the birds and the bees. In a conversation limited to abstinence only’ – they may find that Nature just isn’t listening.

This is Nils Daulaire.

Dr. Nils Daulaire is President of the Global Health Council, headquartered in White River Junction. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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