‘Sex Issue’ promoted irresponsible behavior
Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2008 – 2:00 am


By Ed Leap

When I started my college career, I intended to be a journalist. I remember my early journalism classes and the weight of responsibility that our professors set out before us. We were, they said, “gatekeepers of information.” Our ethics and our professionalism were to be above reproach, and our facts were supposed to be carefully researched.

So I was intrigued when I read The Tiger Sex Issue, the Feb. 15 special edition of the Clemson University student newspaper that was devoted to college sexuality. The title “Sex Issue” grabbed me, as did many of the articles. But unfortunately, the issue left me disappointed.

Part of my job as an emergency physician involves educating patients on risky behaviors. Much of what I do involves education “after the fact.” Things like, “you should have worn a seat-belt.” “You shouldn’t have been driving while intoxicated.” Or “you really shouldn’t play with rattlesnakes.”

Tragically, some student columnists in The Tiger did just the opposite: They threw caution, education and science to the wind by allowing articles that promoted irresponsible, clearly hazardous sexual behavior under the banners of experimentation, youthful passion, irrepressible biological drives and the much over-used “freedom from repressive morality and religion.”

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Although some of the Sex Issue was entertaining and addressed everything from "sexiest athletes" to "sexiest movie scenes," and although some of it looked at relationship questions and birth control in a reasonable manner, much of it was simply childish and salacious. There were columns like "A defense of the single college male," that related that the single college male has an "unquenchable thirst for sex;" the column "Sex is not a moral issue," which tried, awkwardly and ineffectively, to divorce sexual morality from theology; the piece titled "Catholic Guilt," that seemed to suggest sex might be worth a slight risk of hell; and other pieces titled "Swinging," "Ask a stripper," and culminating in two erotic poems that were unnecessarily graphic.

Artistic delights aside, the constant message, as I read through the columns, was that almost anything goes as long as (1) everyone agrees that it's OK, (2) both partners are tested for sexually transmitted infections (STI's) before-hand (Are there labs in bars now? I'm a little behind.), and best of all, (3) a condom is used.

Now, let's talk facts. This year, the British Medical Journal published an article called "Are condoms the answer to rising rates of non-HIV sexually transmitted infections? No." This didn't come from the Moral Majority, kids. This came from a heavy-hitting journal in enlightened Europe.

The article explains what was already suspected; condoms only protect limited areas of the body, so sores and infections can still be transmitted due to contact in other areas around the genitalia that aren't protected by the condom. But it gets worse. Particularly damning is this statement from the article: "Only a minority of people engaging in risky sexual behavior use condoms consistently." Read, "college students."

Sure, condoms reduce the risk of most common STIs, but only by about 50 percent, and only if they're used properly, 100 percent of the time. Of course, we all know that doesn't happen. Furthermore, 50 percent is abysmal when we're talking about an infection like herpes that is incurable. Or an infection like HPV (human papillomavirus) that may leave genital warts and cause cancers of the cervix, penis or anus. And it certainly isn't great news when we're talking about gonorrhea and chlamydia, infections that can result in severe pain and infertility in women.

Fortunately, condoms offer about 85 percent protection from HIV transmission when used during vaginal intercourse (and used 100 percent of the time). But how great is that when we're talking about a fatal disease?

But I'm not just a physician and columnist. I'm a father. In fact, I'm old enough to be the father of many of the young men and women at Clemson. And I wonder, as a caring father, if those students feel liberated or lonely as they move from partner to partner? I wonder if they feel valuable when they connect and are abandoned. Does it make life easier or harder?

And is it the responsibility of The Tiger to lead its readers away from long-held beliefs on morality and faith, away from good science, and into a cycle of dangerous exposure to disease, depression, loneliness and loss of esteem?

Someone should write a poem about that.

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