Thursday, May 10, 2007

Men Are, In Fact, Dogs

One of the reasons that an ex and I used to affectionately call each other "Doggie" grew out of a joke that each of us were often "on the prowl" (in our thoughts if not in our actions). This is not to minimize the roles of ethics, responsibility, and logical thought in sexual behavior and decisions, but I learned long ago that you really can't underestimate the particulars of people's "secret" or "not-so-secret" extracurricular sex lives.

Which is not to say that no one is trustworthy or faithful (I wouldn't stoop to being quite that cynical), but I honestly think that you just never know what anyone might be doing in his or her "secret life." Your mother might be getting her dominatrix on with your dad, or the plumber, or both. Your brother might like to wear stockings, garters, and platform shoes while being violated by the retired nurse from down the block. Your college-aged daughter (or son) might be making extra money by selling blowjobs to potbellied insurance salesmen in Binghamton or Amherst. Really. You might titter with nervous laughter at the images these hypothetical scenarios evoke, but woe unto anyone who thinks, "Oh no, not in my family or circle of friends."

Sadly, this disconnect between public personae and private sex lives can play out in devastating ways, and not just in divorce courts and lovers' spats, as a new study makes even clearer:

For a growing number of women in rural Mexico—and around the world—marital sex represents their single greatest risk for HIV infection. According to a new Mailman School of Public Health Study, because marital infidelity by men is so deeply ingrained across many cultures, existing HIV prevention programs are putting a growing number of women at risk of developing the HIV virus.

The article's lead author, Jennifer S. Hirsch, PhD, associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, is principal investigator on a large comparative study showing that the inevitability of men's infidelity in marriage is true across cultures. This was borne out in the research conducted in rural Mexico as well as in similar studies she is overseeing in rural New Guinea and southeastern Nigeria, which are published in the same issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Of course, nothing about this should be shocking to anyone who lives in the real world, which is why it's infuriating to me that we persist with the "A-B-C" anti-HIV measures (about as juvenile as the "A-B-C" name sounds) that are so beloved by the Bush administration (even while his erstwhile "AIDS Czar" recently had to resign in embarrassment over revelations that he patronized a high-class "massage service".)

Even more anger builds in me when I think back several months to last summer's South African Catholic Bishops' Conference, at which they were intransigent on the Church's view toward condom use. I am not a staunch anti-Catholic person, but this stance by the Church, and the Bishops in particular, is killing people. Period. And not just killing, but consigning them to long periods of inhumane suffering and illness, considering the level of health care most HIV-infected people receive in Africa.

The Columbia public health study sums this up best:

The findings, indicating that globally, prevention programs that take a “just say no” approach and encourage men to be monogamous are unlikely to be effective, underline the need for programs that make extramarital sex safer, rather than—unrealistically—trying to eradicate it.
As I shift from anger to sadness, I wonder how an African woman (or any woman for that matter) might possibly protect herself by trying to require her husband to wear a condom: a condom that costs probably one-eighth to one-quarter the average daily wage of a subsistence worker (the equivalent of maybe $5-$20 per condom in US terms).

Men certainly don't need to be "dogs" — and when the price is their own lives and the lives of their families, they should certainly have a good incentive not to be. The purpose of this rant is not to let them off the "personal responsibility" hook. But when a view of history and human behavior seem to fly in the face (which they so often do) of all rational analysis, the role of idealism and moralizing is, in my opinion, not only irrelevant from a practical standpoint, but also dangerous and especially cruel.


Junk Thief said...

The ABC education approach needs to be replaced by the "single C" -- comprehensive. The other issues that often get left out of this discussion are migration and economic realities. People don't want to even wrap their heads around it, but children of eight are trading phyiscal favors for money in many parts of the world.

copperred said...

ABC started out with great emphasis on the C, and that was what made the campaign originally such a success. That's why Uganda became such a goto destination on the international aid circuit. Abstention was never really part of the plan, at least in practice, because only American politicos and the Vatican are that delusional.

If you're having "infidelities", wear a condom. Once you're in that kind of relationship with another person, your individual needs will have to be balanced against the other person's. Infidelities are of course only infidelities if you've agreed to monogamy, the rate of which varies. You should pick up a copy of "Lust in Translation", which will probably surprise you. I have yet to get a copy but the reviews have been great in the Economist and Atlantic.

Red7Eric said...

You make some really good points -- and yet, as a potential long-term strategy, I'd love to see the day when we no longer teach children (or adults, for that matter) that sex is dirty, nasty, or undiscussable. I think we'd see fewer "secret sex lives" that way, AND people making better decisions about where to spend their sexual energy.