WHEN NBA superstar Earvin (Magic) Johson announced that he had been infected with the virus that causes AIDS, he set off shockwaves that are likely to be felt for many years to come. For not only did the announcement mark the end of one of the most brilliant athletic careers, it also spelled for many the end of carefree (and careless) interaction between the sexes, and the emergence of new sexual attitudes and rules in the dating game.
In the past, other courageous victims of the dreaded virus have come forth and offered themselves as living (and dying) warnings to the public, but none has been able to drive home the message with the same slam-dunk force as the personal tradedy of the universally idolized superstar. Among the legions of Magic's young Black fans, who used to take their hero's indestructibility for granted, as they did their own, a new truth is dawning: "If Magic can catch it," they reason, "so can we."
The shocking disclosure by Magic, who implied that he became HIV-infected during one of numerous encounters with women, has heightened public awareness of the AIDS peril and prompted widespread reassessment of the way men and women relate to each other romantically.
The most divergent views on how to deal with the Aids menace are held by those who counsel strict sexual abstinence outside marriage and those who advocate safe or protected sex. The former argue that passing out condoms to teenagers is putting the official stamp of approval on promiscuous behavior and thus encourages sexual activity among the young. The latter, on the other hand, say that, since young people will be sexually active no matter what the risks or who does or doesn't approve, the promotion of "safe sex" rather than no sex is the more realistic approach.
Despite their frequently differing views, all AIDS counselors, public health authorities, physicians and educators agree that, when it comes to dating practices, business as usual is out. To come to grips with the problem, they say, requires drastic behavior modification on the part of all Americans, and especially Black Americans, who have been disproportionately affected by the spreading plague. Thus, the burning question in the Magic Johnson aftermath is: "What are--or should be--the new rules in the age-old dating game?"
"What I would like to see," says noted Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, "is not just safe sex, but that people become more careful in the selection of their partners. You can no longer pick up and go to bed with strangers. Strangers don't care about you and your health."
Dr. Poussaint suggests that under the new rules, if sex is in the offing, dating partners must put their cards on the table as soon as possible. "People must talk more and try to get their [partner's] sexual history," he says. "There is nothing wrong with asking, 'Have you had an HIV test or are you HIV negative?"
Dr. Poussaint hastens to add that, at best, people who date can make the assumption that their partner is relatively safe. "The trouble," he points out, "is that most people most likely wouldn't be totally truthful. If someone is trying to go to bed with you, they aren't going to say things that make you not want to do it. That's why people will have to make decisions in relative terms rather than absolute terms."
Alma Rose George, M.D., president of the National Medical Association and a strong advocate of radical behavior changes as a means of combating AIDS, would prefer that young people stay away from sex altogether. …