Saturday, June 21, 2008

I Find It Hard to Believe

Post #995

There is a commercial for a prescription medication that seems to show up on my TV screen several times a day that makes what I consider to be an incredible statement:

1 out of 5 adults in the United States is infected with the genital herpes virus. And 90% of them have never been diagnosed. (Valtrex commercial)

OK, I admit that I don’t believe that I have every written about an STD before. I also admit that I am not very knowledgeable about the subject—primarily what I learned as a social worker and later in classes I took via the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. However, I am aware that, if this claim that 20% of U.S. adults are infected with the genital herpes virus is valid, that we Americans have one hell of an epidemic that. To my knowledge, is being discussed no where except in a television commercial.

Don’t you believe that there is something wrong with that picture? To me it is as shocking as when I learned a few years ago that it has become the norm in certain places for 5th grade girls to perform oral sex on 5th grade boys.

One of the first things I learned in seminary was to question everything, including the Bible. Since I don’t consider a pharmaceutical TV add to be anywhere near as authoritative as the Bible (which, if you really study it, has texts with varying degrees of trustworthiness), I decided to do a little research. Here is what I found at the United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website:

Results of a nationally representative study show that genital herpes infection is common in the United States. Nationwide, at least 45 million people ages 12 and older, or one out of five adolescents and adults, have had genital HSV infection. Over the past decade, the percent of Americans with genital herpes infection in the U.S. has decreased.

Genital HSV-2 infection is more common in women (approximately one out of four women) than in men (almost one out of eight). This may be due to male-to-female transmission being more likely than female-to-male transmission.

Did you pick up what that says? It confirms the TV ad: at least 45 million people ages 12 and older, or one out of five adolescents and adults, have had genital HSV infection and takes it a step further because the TV commercial limited the claim of infection to adults. Second, it says that the number of Americans infected is has come down to 20% over the past decade. Finally, am I misreading the second paragraph or does it really claim that one out of every four females in the United States has had a had genital HSV infection?

This ain’t funny, folks! So how the Centers for Disease Control recommend we address this epidemic? I’ll be damned, but it gives the same prescription as the Right Wing gives for preventing unwanted pregnancies and AIDS:

The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including genital herpes, is to abstain from sexual contact, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.

Come on folks! Telling humans to abstain from sexual contact is about as realistic as telling your adolescent kid to wait until he/she completes college before getting a driver’s license! The kid’s gonna drive one way or another, with or without a license; the kids (and adults) are gonna have sex, too.

And what about this “in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected?” What I have learned from the under 40s with whom I have had contact over the past twenty or so years is that the “normal dating process” has become screw first and then talk to the dude or dudette to determine if you want to get to known them—or maybe ask her or him his or her name.

So I am leaving the answer up in the air because I have no answer. And I ask you: how can we Americans deal with this genital herpes virus epidemic?

Please remember to visit Alex’s new blog: HERE
The furball has promised to write a new-post-a-day.


  1. I think people have begun to see AIDS and herpes as facts of life. They keep their fingers crossed and hope it never happens, but when it does, they just shrug and carry on.

  2. Herpes is a serious problem, but that is a very funny movie.

  3. Well, having spent a year working in the STD clinic while stationed in Korea, I can tell you that folks have become somewhat lackadaisical about STD's since AIDs has become the focus. The thought process is, "At least Herpes doesn't kill you." Add to that the fact that there is SUCH a social stigma attached to sex and STD's in this country and you've got the makings of a HUGE mess.

    We need to become more comfortable talking about sex. It's not shameful, it's not dirty and there is nothing to be embarrassed about. We need to teach kids that the Clinton definition of sex is a little skewed - that oral sex carries risks - and that teen pregnancy is not glamorous.

    We need to find the strength of family again ...

  4. I have no answers either, Nick. But I find it just as disturbing as you do. And you're right of course, expecting abstention is ludicrous and totally out of touch with reality!

  5. The figures are shocking but probably always been as many it's just that it's reported more now don't you think?

  6. I did not know about this. It is very troubling.

  7. I saw the ad, but found it difficult to believe. But now you have backed it up with research and I am shocked!
    I must be a rarity, because I don't understand why so many people think abstinence is unattainable. We have teenagers, so you can bet my dh & I have discussions on this. When our teens show signs of spending time with someone, you can also bet we will be having discussions with them abou this! Our school district currently teaches abstinence only. And yet, while my dh finds this ludicrous, he himself abstained in his youth.

    I find myself in the camp of wanting to teach abstinence as the best option, with teaching barrier protection (both pregnancy & STDs) as a backup in case someone finds they can't abstain.
    There are so many reasons why abstinence is a good choice - no pregnancy, no STDs, no sexually-transmitted HIV. I also hold with the Biblical idea of showing respect for one another by keeping sexual relations within marriage.
    And I admit this is much harder said than done, even for someone who believes this way!!

    It's a complicated issue, isn't it?

  8. I, too, have seen the TV commercial. I suppose I have tuned out the words as I do with almost every commercial. 20% of the population is a significant number of people.

  9. Considering our college days, I am surprised that we both made it to our venerable ages STD free.

  10. This is quite disturbing, but how can someone have it and not know? Isn't it supposed to be obvious and painful?

    It is realy too bad that abstinence is so hard for so many to wrap their head around. Years ago they had a just say no campaign for drugs, I suppose a similar one for hopping in the sack with people you barely know, would not catch on. Pity.

  11. You have touched upon a rather controversial subject, Rev Saint. Of course, anything even remotely of a sexual nature is controversial in our society that is both obsessed with sex and rejecting of the sexual nature of human beings. I believe that is that very contradiction that enables epidemics such as this one to develop and spread

  12. Life is so unfair! As soon as women got the bc pill so we did not have to be terrified of pregnancy we have to be scared of STDs.

  13. Are they counting those who have the Herpes simplex anti-bodies, but never show symptoms? It's my understanding that the Herpes spread is even prevalent among mothers and their children in the form of anti-bodies.

    I also don't think enough people understand that Herpes can be spread through contact while using a condom, and even when there is no outbreak. They always seem to gloss over that in the pharmaceuticals commercials.

    (By the way, my Herpes post was purely coincidental.)

  14. In Oz the number is one in 8 adults. We have the HPV vaccine which prevents against certain cancer causing strains of the disease. Its government funded, available free to all girls aged between 12 and 27. I've had all of my shots.

    I think education is the key. People cannot avoid something if they don't know about it.

  15. We have the HPV vaccine in the states, too. But that's for the Human Papillomavirus, not the Herpes simplex virus.

  16. 1 out of every 4 women have genital herpes? That is really hard to believe!

  17. Lavinia Ladyslipper: It can take as long as a decade after infection for the symptoms to appear.

  18. These are some excellent comments! I rather wish that I had been here to comment upon them as your wrote them! No, I suppose I really don’t: Alex and I had a wonderful sabbatical. I only wish that we could have made it a longer one, but I was hampered by how much oxygen I was able to take with me.

    Now to you comments!

    GORRILA BANANAS: No, unfortunately I understand it, there is no vaccination or cure for herpes simplex.

    THOMAS-LB: You may be right. However, I can picture neither as a shrugging matter.

    YOUR BEST MAN: I agree on both. The video parody of the commercial is in a way funny. I was actually seeking the TV commercial but the video I think is better.

    DANA: I suppose that you’re right. Herpes is a minor irritation when compared with AIDS. I agree with you about our needing to de-stigmatize sex. I could probably write several hundred pages on that subject. Come to think of it, about 20 or so years ago I did write several hundred pages on the de-stigmatization of sex and sexuality.

  19. ETERNIALLY COURCIOUS: You know, the real sadness is, if our society as a whole was less uptight and thus obsessed with sex, the issues probably wouldn’t exist. Sure, there would still be STDs around, but the shame that society places on those who have contracted them would not be around, folks would feel freer to talk about them, and I really think that the number of folks being infected would be reduced. Perhaps that’s one thing that “comic” video points out.

    AKELAMALU: That’s an excellent point! I agree. The reporting is much better now and the statistics more accurate. For example, 50 or 60 years ago it was reported that one female child in 100,000 had been sexually abused. Now we know that the real statistic is one in four. The sexual abuse (hopefully) hasn’t increased but the reporting has.

    JESSE: I didn’t know about it either until I kept seeing that TV commercial and decided to do some research. Yes, it is most troubling.

    KCINNOVA: I can suggest some reasons abstinence is not attainable: (1) our culture, unlike most others, is uptight and thus obsessed with sex; (2) kids learn about sex primarily from other kids (I know that I did); and (3) sex is fun.

    I am afraid I have an unfortunate revelation for you: in Biblical times keeping sexual relations within the marriage bed was only imposed on females. The issue was the inheritance of the male’s estate: the men wanted to be certain that their heir came from their loins and their loins alone. Also, men could have as many wives and concubines as they could afford to maintain. Women couldn’t; also, it was much easier to convict a female of adultery than a male. Conviction under Jewish law meant being stoned to death, just as it still does under Islamic law.

    As for STDs in Biblical times, it has been suggested that King Herod Antipas (the dude who beheaded John the Baptizer) suffered from syphilis. It has also been suggested that the Apostle Paul may also have had the same STD.

  20. CHINA GIRL: I believe that you are correct in saying that you tuned out the words of the commercial. I think that I did, too, and when I finally heard what as being said I was appalled and did the research.

    ANGUS: Hmmmmm. I really don’t want to consider the possible consequences of the countless oats I sowed back then!

    LAVINIA LADYSLIPPER: It’s my understanding that the pain and sores are not constant, just like a fever blister (herpes) in one’s mouth. It never really goes away and will possible surface when least expected.

    AZSONOFAGUN: Yep, Rex. I believe the same thing. (See above).

  21. CANDI: I agree. Just after I obtained a vasectomy the damned AIDS epidemic hit!

    COUTRNEY: That’s an excellent question and I don’t have the answer. Perhaps the Centers for Disease Control website (I linked to it in the post) can answer that one. I would think that it would be obvious to folks that a condom doesn’t protect one from herpes. Well, maybe not! Sometimes I over estimate the intelligence and rationality of people. If they just thought about that sex without pregnancy—i.e., oral and anal sex—is how cold blisters got from the mouth to the genitals and anis in the first place…

    PHISHEZ_RULE: I don’t believe that the HPV vaccine has any affect on Herpes Simplex.

    COURTNEY: Thank you.

  22. LUCKY OWL: Yes, one of out four is hard to believe. Of course, it’s about the same as the women who have been sexually abused under the age of 18, too. Sad.

    THOMAS: Thank you for the additional information.

  23. Scary stuff. I don't know what the stats are in the UK but I bet they are scary too.

  24. Not very encouraging numbers if I say so myself. To be honest, I still don't think that abstinence is the answer. Actually it's a total crock. It's an excuse to dodge the real issue at hand; people can and will have sex and if they do how can they be safer about it. In a magic world somewhere far away this may work, but not on the planet earth. the abstinence program is flawed because it has it's roots in many religious agendas which want you to be ignorant about sex and use it only to procreate. But we don't only use it for that and it's not going to change, ever. America is too uptight about the issues of sex and the realities of life. Religion is part of the issue. Their views on it are stuck in the dark ages. Abstinence and faith based programs have lead to an increase in STDs and unwanted pregnancies where they have been used. Especially in Africa. Proper sex education which delt more openly and honestly about this, worked better.

    My answer, face reality and get comfortable with the topic. Get to know it instead of seeing it as something dirty. Knowledge is power.