With celebrity ignorance and STDs on rise, let’s grow up about sex

For a nation that’s 238 years old, America can be remarkably immature in certain ways — take, for example, in its thinking about sex. Maybe if we weren’t so adolescent about this life-giving topic, we wouldn’t have been subjected to some of the recent, tawdry, and distressing reports from yes, both celebrities and scientists.

HIV-AIDS persists as one of the nation’s major public health challenges, as the U.S. Office for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion points out, noting: An estimated 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, and 1 out of 5 people with HIV do not know they have it.HIV continues to spread, leading to about 56,000 new HIV infections each year.” Retrovirals have allowed millions to live and live better with HIV as a serious, chronic disease.

But surely the public discourse on HIV should not be dominated by the sad hijinks of the likes of television star Charlie Sheen, who took to the airwaves, along with tut-tut commentaries that followed, to disclose his HIV-positive status and the wealth-soaked lifestyle that contributed to it. His ostensible reason for his broadcast appearance, he said, was to encourage others’ greater HIV awareness and to urge the sexually active to get tested regularly for the disease. Of course he also said that his new-found candor will allow him to cut off the millions of dollars he has paid to keep his status secret.

(One detail that was both timely and ultra-creepy was the disclosure that Sheen made guests at his house sign an arbitration agreement upon arrival, no doubt to ensure swift “justice” should any controversies arise. See the recent New York Times series about how “forced arbitration” has privatized lawsuits and in the process wreaked havoc on usual standards of fair play in American civil justice.)

The ignoble  celebrity might possibly be ignored were it not for some ignorance piling on — witness the jaw-dropping public interview given by the chief executive of Tinder, an app used by the young to facilitate sexual encounters or hook-ups. Sean Rad, 29, said he was addicted to Tinder and hook-ups, further disclosing that he doesn’t understand the difference between sodomy and sapiosexuality (a trendy term for preferring partners with brains). Well, alrighty then. What made his comments attention-grabbing was that they were made at all — Tinder is part of a larger company, Match, which is about to go public, with a valuation estimated at $4.2 billion. The company is in the midst of what is known as the quiet period when investors deliberate and regulators see corporate silence as a virtue in the consideration process.

The temptation might be to tell Charlie and Sean and their ilk to just grow up, man. But maybe that’s what Americans collectively need to do about sex, including talking openly about it in more mature ways, including condom use and other ways to safer sex. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided a stark reason why: The agency has reported that, for the first time since 2006, three sexually transmitted diseases — chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorhhea — have increased and at “an alarming rate.”

Let’s all get a clue: The CDC ties young people, especially a small segment of the population ages 15 to 24, to the sharp rises in chlamydia and gonorhhea. Chlamydia can be cured and needs to be treated to avert major harm to women’s fertility. Gonorhhea often is spread without detection, is showing increasing resistance to treatment, and can cause serious health harms.

As for primary and secondary syphilis infections, the agency says these are increasing steeply among gay and bisexual men. The CDC has called for heightened research on why, noting that half these infections involved men who also were HIV positive. Although treatable in its early phases, syphilis often goes undetected and if allowed to progress, it can lead to paralysis, blindness, dementia, and great harm to fertility. The CDC noted that societal attitudes, including homophobia, may contribute to risky, detrimental health behaviors among gay and bisexual men, fueling their STD woes.

It’s, frankly speaking, more than a bit mind-boggling that dated taboos about private behavior still contribute to the spread and damage of ancient sexual diseases. It’s past time for us to talk with our children, families, friends, and fellow Americans about how we can have healthy sex and to be open about the best ways to do so, safely.

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