January 29, 2002

Do not forget about safe sex

So what's the basic consensus on condoms? I do not mean to be vulgar, I am simply curious. Basically my own feelings are that they are a rather good addition to sex these day since there is a disease called AIDS. So there's another question: what's the basic consensus on AIDS? We all remember when it came on the scene and those awkward parental conversations after Magic Johnson's press conference back in 1992. My own parental conversation wasn't so bad; it was the talk we got in school the next day that was. My fourth grade teacher at my charming Catholic grade school sat us down on the floor, replayed the press conference, and then proceeded to take out a condom and explain its uses. Traumatic is the word that often springs to mind when recalling that day. I was in fourth grade, kissing boys was still a taboo subject, and yet here we all were talking about sex and its possibly serious consequences. After that day, nobody's sex-ed class was the same; rather than the traditional focus on virginity, educators began to realize that kids had sex. It was important to get over that shock and keep kids safe and, more importantly, aware of AIDS. Condoms became commonplace at most high schools, and AIDS became the "it" disease. Kids knew of its existence, how it was transmitted, and how to prevent it. The fear of AIDS made kids in the U.S. much more mature about sex; if you were going to have it, you needed protection, and it was that simple.

So, about 10 years after Magic's press conference, is AIDS still on our minds? There is an obvious desire to say yes; we want to claim ourselves as a generation keenly aware of our own mortality. Yet until September 11 of last year, we had experienced very little that had challenged us. AIDS had fallen from its pedestal. There's no use trying to deny that when Hollywood attaches itself to a certain cause, everyone becomes interested. AIDS awareness is no longer championed by young Hollywood celebrities and, this being the case, our youthful generation has begun to forget the disease's existence. Last year the AIDS crisis in Africa hit the press and we were all bombarded with pictures of beautiful babies infected with HIV, toddlers in orphanages, and teenagers dying in hospices. They were horrible images, but they were from Africa. Here at the University of Chicago, the troubles of that AIDS-stricken continent seemed quite remote. We kept having sex, which we should keep doing, but we were getting lazy about using condoms, which we should stop doing. This isn't a gender-based issue. Sex happens between at least two people, and therefore it is the responsibility of everyone involved to have enough respect for their partner/s to not put their lives in danger. Obviously, the laziness in condom usage is not a trend among just U of C students. In a study conducted in January of last year the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated that this adoption of more high-risk sex (i.e. sex without condoms) had led to an increased HIV diagnosis among 13 to 24-year-olds. Thirteen percent of all AIDS cases in the U.S. last year occurred within our generation. While this percentage isn't large enough to scare many of you math-oriented men and women, think about this: the CDC also revealed that the number of new cases diagnosed last year decreased in every age group except ours. There was a rise in new diagnoses among 13 to 24-year-olds. Moral of the study — there is no reason to think that we at the University of Chicago are exempt from AIDS.

So back to the issue of condoms. We all learned how to use them in those embarrassing sex-ed classes back in eighth grade. We all know that besides abstinence, they are the single best way to prevent AIDS. And since I think most of you are now laughing hysterically that I actually brought up the word abstinence, condoms are probably the only way we can guarantee our health. By our age, most everyone has assumed that we are smart enough to use protection. The government may encourage AIDS education in high school, but they have confidence that most university students are bright enough to figure out that pregnancy isn't the only side effect of careless sex. I hope our government isn't overestimating our judgment.

AIDS is a disease that came into our lives full force about a decade ago. Because our generation was going to be growing up with this disease, people felt the need not only to educate us but also to be honest with us. Our generation was taught that sex was good thing, but that it was also a responsibility. No one will deny that we have sex here, but people cannot deny that they don't always use protection. I can't say that I understand this sentiment. I would hope that you would value yourself and your partner enough that you wouldn't take a risk this great. There will always be excuses why you don't want to use a condom, but they're never very good excuses. And to knock one of those excuses away, if you're too cheap to insure your health, they always have free condoms at the Student Care Center.