Thursday, January 3, 2008

On the Dangers of Having Unprotected Conversations with Guests You Meet at Your Aunt’s Sabbath Table: A Review of Unprotected

During my recent trip to Los Angeles, I stayed at my aunt and uncle. For the Sabbath meals my aunt had a friend of her's over, Dr. Miriam Grossman. Dr. Grossman is a psychiatrist at UCLA. She and I got into a discussion about university life and political correctness and I mentioned a book that I had heard about called Unprotected, which attacked university health departments for allowing the cause of political correctness to get in the way of protecting the physical and mental health of their students. I had not read the book, but I had heard about it, as this book had become a hit in conservative circles. As it turns out Dr. Grossman happens to be the author of this book. I later got to see the Clare Booth Luce calendar, which featured her two spots away from Ann Coulter. A dubious honor I admit, but all the same not bad for a middle-aged Orthodox Jewish woman.

After the Sabbath was over, I ordered the book on Amazon and I got it soon after I got back from Los Angeles. It is a short book, at only 151 pages plus footnotes, and an easy read. The book is built around cases that Dr. Grossman has dealt with, working at UCLA, of students, who found themselves in various difficult situations, which Dr. Grossman believes came about as the result of less than medically sound advice given to these students from UCLA’s Student Health Services. For example, there is the case of Stacey, who got a Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) even though her boyfriend used a condom. There is also Heather, who shows symptoms of depression and had recently gotten into a “friends with benefits” relationship with a boy. Grossman argues that the people running Student Health Services purposely played down the potential physical and mental health risks to students such as these as part of their advocacy of “Safe-Sex.”

Besides for campus Student Health Services, Dr. Grossman lashes out against campus websites that dispense advice about sex. Her main target in this is Columbia University’s Go Ask Alice. I had actually been shown this site before, by a friend. Believe me, this is not a site for the prudish or squeamish. Ask Alice seems designed to be hauled out by conservatives in front of a congressional committee discussing whether or not to cut funding for public education. I do wish to point out that Ohio State’s sex-education website is, considering the world in which we live in, relatively responsible. It does a good job at keeping itself within the realm of medicine and out of our culture war.

There seems to be two parts to Dr. Grossman’s argument. The first is that Student Health Services are failing to properly educate students about the risks of sexual intercourse. In essence Dr. Grossman is rehashing the abstinence movement’s case. I do not have a degree in modern medicine; I deal with people who lived in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and their ideas about the natural world. I therefore am not in a position to comment as to the level of risk involved in protected sex.

The second part to Dr. Grossman’s argument, and probably the most important, is that the Student Health Services across the country are being run by radical leftists who use their position, not to help students, but to refashion society according to their own agenda. If we do not accept this second part than there is little point to the book. If this was merely a matter of bad medical advice being distributed to students than one could simply deal with it as an internal professional matter, without going public and denouncing one’s own profession. In essence, for this book to work, one would have to prove there was conspiracy at hand. The book comes up short on this front; there is no real damning evidence unearthed. The closest Dr. Grossman comes to this with a case in which the campus Student Health Services refused to give a Mormon woman, wishing to get pregnant for the sixth time, an appointment, in the near future, so she could get a prescription for the fertility drugs she wanted. This woman though was able to get an appointment by claiming that she wanted birth control pills. In defense of Dr. Grossman I would point out that trying to make a case for a conspiracy would have taken this book down a far more polemical path. She clearly has tried to moderate her rhetoric and keep from sounding too shrill, i.e. like Ann Coulter.

There is a certain irony in this whole matter. If my understanding of the Health Services establishment is correct, their counter argument against Dr. Grossman and the entire abstinence movement, is that they, the Health Services establishment, are being forced to face down a conspiracy to promote a religious agenda. One of the main complaints against abstinence sex-education curriculums is that they contain faulty information. Recently there was a study finding serious flaws in two thirds of the abstinence curriculums. Now, from the perspective of the opponents of the teaching of abstinence, these are not simply flaws. If they were they could simply be addressed as an internal matter. The real issue at hand is whether abstinence programs deliberately engage in misinformation in order to promote their religious agenda. In essence their concerns mirror Dr. Grossman’s.

I would like to conclude with some questions for Dr. Grossman.

1) Do casual sexual encounters lead to depression or is it simply that people struggling with depression are more likely to seek out casual sexual encounters in order to relieve their symptoms? What evidence do you have for the former?

2) Is it possible that the reason why casual sexual encounters leads to depression in some people is that these people came from religious backgrounds, which taught them to believe that such actions are sinful, and that these people still hold onto these beliefs or that these beliefs are still active within their subconsciouses? Could it be that it is guilt and not sex that is responsible for their depression? What evidence do you have to refute this argument?

3) If homosexuals really are at a much greater risk of being infected with HIV than why, if you look at the global spread of HIV, does it appear to “not discriminate” between heterosexuals and homosexuals?

What I am interested in is not a claim or a sound-bite, but in some hard arguments and evidence that makes sense to my academic, though not particularly scientific, frame of mind.

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