For years, conventional wisdom said parents should talk to their kids about safe sex. Increasingly, it looks like it’s young people who should be inviting parents and perhaps grandparents too for a conversation that matters.
HIV/AIDS and Relationship Breakdown
Several years ago, Andrew Daire, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida, first talked to me about the connection between relationship breakdown and the dramatic spread of the HIV/AIDS virus. At the time, Dr. Daire was preparing for his second trip to Mombasa, Kenya to provide PAIRS training to counseling students at Kenyatta University. His hypothesis, supported by significant anecdotal evidence, was that strengthening marital satisfaction in Africa would help curtail the widespread culture of male infidelity. In many communities throughout Africa, when marriages broke down, instead of divorce, men frequently took on mistresses who were often supported through sexual relationships with multiple men. The mistresses had become a breading ground for the HIV/AIDS virus that their sex partners were then transmitting to their wives and, in many cases, unborn children.
In the United States too, where one million people live with the virus and 56,000 people are expected to be positively diagnosed this year, relationship breakdown is a key factor that leads many to engage in risky sexual activities. The combination of “miracle” drugs such as Pfizer’s little blue pill known as Viagra, the struggles many couples are facing in even long-term marriages and committed relationships, and data reported in Indiana University’s recent National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior gives reason to believe that despite progress in HIV/AIDS treatment, millions of Americans are continuing to put themselves at great risk for infection.
The Biological Need for Bonding
Like the need for air, food, water, and shelter, human yearning for physical and emotional connection is much more than a luxury we can live with or without. Many of the symptoms frequently treated by physicians, mental health professionals, and the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry can be traced directly to the impact of bonding deprivation. Just as people are likely to make desperate decisions when needs for air, food, water, or shelter are unmet, the same is true for men and women starving for intimacy.
Millions have turned to Sildenafil, the drug marketed as Viagra, with the belief that enhanced sexual abilities would lead to greater happiness, pleasure, and fulfillment of the yearning for connection.
The Viagra Myth
“Viagra quickly tapped into a set of wishful fantasies that mirrored our culture’s hunger for certainty and the quick fix,” writes Dr. Abraham Morgentaler in The Viagra Myth: The Surprising Impact on Love and Relationships. “Supported by stories that described elderly men restored to such sexual vitality by Viagra that they abandoned their wives in favor of younger women, a conventional wisdom arose that Viagra was a fountain of youth, a sure cure, the real deal. Baby boomers could now look forward to fabulous sex well into their nineties. Men shared Viagra stories with each other at cocktail parties or around the office water cooler,” explains the Brookline, Massachusetts’s urologist and associate director of the Harvard Medical School.
World AIDS Day
On World AIDS Day this week, President Obama addressed the more than one million people who live with HIV/AIDS in the United States. For those who became infected through risky sexual activities, many of their stories begin with the breakdown of their closest relationships that led to encounters in which they contracted the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 55 percent of HIV infections diagnosed in America are people over the age of 35, with nearly a third resulting from heterosexual contact. Statistics from the national Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior reveal that just a small fraction of sexually active baby boomers and older adults are practicing safe sex. Just one in 20 sexually active men over the age of 60 are regularly using condoms and just one in five of those in the 35 – 44 age group.
Most Teens Practicing Safe Sex
The good news in the report is that the far majority of sexually active teenagers are using condoms, including nearly 80 percent of 14-17 year old males and 58 percent of females.
Although years of conventional wisdom said parents should be the ones talking to their teenagers about safe sex, the combination of increasing sexual activity by their parents and grandparents along with the findings of the Indiana study suggest it may now be up to young people to do the teaching.
Role of Relationship and Marriage Education
As communities throughout America and across the globe collectively focus attention on the campaign to eradicate the deadly HIV/AIDS epidemic, evidence-based relationship and marriage education should be a vital resource. Many future infections can be prevented by teaching couples skills to enhance relationship satisfaction, passion, and pleasure in committed relationships. Doing so can prevent millions from engaging in risky behaviors that has already stolen far too many lives.