monthly column from lifestyle author/activist
Steve Mason

Lifestyle On-Line

Sexual Epidemic Sweeps Nation

The American Medical Association recently published what is considered by experts to be the most comprehensive sex survey in fifty years. Not since Dr. Alfred Kinsey's landmark studies in 1948 have researchers gathered so much reliable information on the sexual health of the nation. Their findings, presented by the study's lead author Dr. Edward Laumann (a sociologist at the University of Chicago) represented years of work that included in-depth interviews with 1,749 women and 1,410 men. The results were not good. In fact, the problem appears to be twice the magnitude experts had predicted. It is no exaggeration to say that Americans are in the midst of a sexual epidemic.

But before you run out to get tested and before you begin to rethink your swinging ways, sit down and relax for a minute. The bad news is there's an epidemic. The good news is you're probably not affected. Why? Because the disease diagnosed in 43% of the women and 31% of the men is "sexual dysfunction." Now think about that. Can you imagine the media response, the blaring headlines and grim faced television news anchors, if the results were the opposite; if researchers had discovered that sex was in some way hazardous to your health?

If anything, it's a lack of sex that can be deadly. The British Medical Journal just reported on a long-term study of nearly a thousand men between the ages of 45 and 59. In this age of "Just Say No" and "If It Feels Good It Must Be Bad" it's perhaps not too surprising that the findings have not received the attention they deserve. You see, the data showed that the amount of sexual activity enjoyed by a man is directly proportional to both his health and longevity. Men who reported twice as much sex were half as likely to die prematurely. WOW!

Archaic religious and political restrictions on apparently essential sexual behavior may actually be taking years off people's lives. Yet it's the greatly exaggerated and often wholly imaginary "Wages Of Sin" that continues to make the front page. The fact that it's abstinence that turns out to be the really risky behavior and that sexual dysfunction has reached epidemic proportions gets short shrift.

Of the women taking part in Dr. Laumann's study, 33% said they never wanted to have sex, 26% said they didn't experience orgasm when they did have sex and 23% said sex simply wasn't pleasurable. On the other side, 33% of the men said they had persistent problems during sex, 14% said they didn't want to have sex and 8% said they derived no pleasure from sex. Tie this to the fact that subjects diagnosed as suffering from sexual dysfunction also tended to describe their relationships as unsatisfactory and their lives in general as unhappy and the devastating nature of the problem becomes apparent.

Dr. Domeena Renshaw of the Loyola University Medical Center said that although the numbers were twice what the experts had predicted, she was not surprised considering the increasingly long lines of couples waiting for treatment at the sexual dysfunction clinic she has run since 1972. Many of her patients have never had sex and this includes one couple who had been married for 23 years.

Dr. Raymond Rosen of the R.W. Johnson Medical School in New Jersey was appalled by the sheer size of the sexual dysfunction epidemic. "It's terrible." For years Americans have been "getting their information about sex from magazines bought at the grocery store checkout." And those "Americans" include many so-called "experts" who then dispense their ill-gotten notions to millions. From the radio's Pop Psych gurus to the newspaper's Love Lore columnists, the message mirrors the Uptight Right's "Sex Is Dirty" credo; that God ever invented sex in the first place was clearly a mistake so they continue to create caveats that will at least make it as unpleasant as possible. And when one of the more notorious of these screwball hypocrites gets caught with both her legs and pictures spread across the Internet, support from the clinically dysfunctional is so complete that barely a single moralizing moment of her coast to coast broadcast was lost.

When Pfizer's director of sexual-health products, David Brinkley, was asked about the different stories he's heard in the year since his company began the commercial production of Viarga, he was quoted as saying "People are strange when it comes to sex." Indeed! They love to wax lyrical when it comes to the birds and the bees and especially those little ducks they say mate for life; a "natural" role model humans would be well advised to follow. But mention gay giraffes or masturbating monkeys and suddenly an equally "natural" behavior becomes bestial.

Recorded history goes back about 10,000 years. Cave paintings go back about twice as far while communal living goes back twice that and ancestors indistinguishable (given a haircut and shave) from modern Man go back twice that. Half the people who ever lived, are alive today. What this means is that there is a whole world of human behavior separated by time and space. The notion that love and marriage and sex go together and last forever is just the latest blip on the screen; a passing fad that, when taken seriously, results in a third of all males and almost half of all females unhappy with their lives dissatisfied with their relationships and sexually dysfunctional. That an individual can passionately adore this person, find that person a wholly compatible partner and be blown away by an anonymous body in a pile of bodies is so common to the human experience one should think it would be accepted apriori yet women who enjoy sex are sluts and men who enjoy variety are philanders.

It has been said that those who don't study history are condemned to repeat it; a sentiment paraphrased (sort of) by Yogi Bera's "It's deja vu all over again." And from Joe McCarthy's equivalent of the Salem Witch Trials to the Drug War's attempt at Prohibition, people continue to ignore the lessons of the past. Perhaps one day, in the not-too-distant future, students of history will read about Holland's Tulip Mania, Great Britain's South Sea Island Bubble and the U.S. of A's 20th Century Sex Epidemic.

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