Sexual Education: I got burned, you could be next

Let’s talk about sex. First, blunt, open discourse on sexuality is vital to the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STD). In the 1980s, America awoke to an epidemic that has come to embody the fatal worst-case scenario: acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS quickly gained a reputation as a disease for gay men. However, viruses and bacterias, unlike humans, do not discriminate.

A patriarchal and puritanical tradition within the United States contributes to how the culture responds to the issue of sexuality. In “sex ed” classes across the nation, boys and girls are separated for discussion of certain topics, leading to impotent discourse between gender lines. Some men grow through puberty not fully understanding the menstrual cycle in a society where beauty queens are crowned at early ages and men discuss and accept masturbation earlier than women. Accordingly, within the male psyche, exuberant sexual activity is validated, yet the vernacular “slut” and “bitch” are rarely employed on men. Issues concerning sex are trivialized and marginalized on the ground of morality, yet every human has a sex drive comparable to the
need for food, as Peaches would say.

The underground losers in the battle for healthy sexuality are people who contract STDs. And most teenage Americans know what to do in sex but often not how.

Since the onset of art history, erotic artists such as Madonna and Tom of Finland have sought to make people reencounter sexual stereotypes and taboos in a new way. In her widely acclaimed and highly prized book, SEX, Madonna, an intelligent, sassy feminist, exposed herself and her fantasies. She begins, “This book is about sex. Sex is not love. Love is not sex. The best of both worlds is created when they come together.” She also shows no restraint in commenting about STDs on the same page, “…but if I were to make my dreams real, I would certainly use condoms. Safe sex saves lives. Pass it on.”

Tom of Finland was born Touko Laaksonen in 1920 in Kaarina, Finland. When he began art school in Helsinki at nineteen, he created homoerotic drawings for his own enjoyment, then sent his images to a bodybuilding magazine in 1957 (under his pseudonym) and became an immediate success. Since 1973, he has exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide. He has permanent collections in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco and Helsinki Museums of Contemporary Art, and Turku Town Hall in Finland. His highly masculine homoerotic work redefines the space of the voyeur in art by embedding the work with sexuality.

Sexual discourse is one of the most combative methods for the prevention of STDs. Chlamydia (the clap) is the most commonly reported notifiable disease in the U.S. According to a 2001 STD surveillance report published through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), chlamydia has comprised the highest proportion of all STDs reported since 1994.

It is called the “silent epidemic” because three-quarters of women and one half of men with the disease have no symptoms. In asymptomatic women, chlamydia may result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is a major cause of infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain. In 2001, the CDC reported 783,242 infections from the 50 states and the District of Columbia (278.3 cases per 100,000 people).

The number of infected women is four times higher than men and the highest percentages of women who acquired chlamydia in 2001 are between the ages of 15 and 19 (2,536.1 cases per 100,000 people). The highest percentage of infection for men is between 20 and 24 years old (2,447.0 cases per 100,000 people). According to the pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, 4 million new cases occur each year in America.

Moreover, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis are easily tested for and treated if discovered before it is too late. In 2001, the CDC reported 361,705 cases in the U.S. (128.5 cases per 100,000 people). In cities, such as Miami, with populations over 200,000 there were 227.4 cases per 100,000 people reported. The highest rate among women is between 15 to 19 years old (703.2 cases per 100,000 people) and in men between 20 and 24 years old (563.6 cases per 100,000). Syphilis is a genital ulcerative disease. The rate of primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis has declined by 89.7 per cent in the U.S. from 1990 through 2000 because of improved screening techniques.

Also, The South of the U.S. consistently had higher reported rates than any other region of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and (P&S) syphilis.
Moving along, the genital herpes simplex virus infection includes lifelong recurrent episodes of painful genital lesions. It may only be passed if the lesions are present and it is one of the most common STDs. The warts must be present to transmit the virus and most infections are subclinical-no visible signs. Asymptomatic men with HPV are hard to diagnose and usually go untreated and the warts may be detected in women with a Pap smear.

The right to open discourse about sexuality is not immoral-it is real. Whether it is on a college campus or in the bedroom, sex needs to be talked about. Art, conscience, and sexuality define who we are as humans and as the lines between female/male and gay/straight become blurred in American culture, Madonna’s double entendre breathes clarity: “Love is something we make.”

Alex Saleeby can be reached at