Let's Talk about Sex
Sepkowitz, Kent, Newsweek
Byline: Kent Sepkowitz
That's the only way to get U.S. HIV rates down.
This week the world's experts on HIV/AIDS will gather in Seattle for their annual meeting and to gloat, a little, over their remarkable accomplishments. Globally, the rate of new annual infections dropped from 3.4 million in 1997 to 2.7 million in 2010.
For the United States, however, there is much less to celebrate. We have been stuck at about 50,000 new infections each year for more than a decade. Compared with the challenges facing places like sub-Saharan Africa, our failure is particularly galling: we have plenty of drugs that work, the money and systems to administer them, and effective, if not particularly popular, ways to interrupt the spread (condoms, clean needles, abstinence).
So why aren't we doing better? The answer is blindingly simple: sex. Almost all HIV in the U.S. is spread by sexual intercourse, yet when faced with this fact, we act like a bumbling junior-high-school kid hearing about the birds and the bees for the first time. As a result, we have before us an unabated 30-year epidemic of a sexually transmitted disease.
Not that sex doesn't get discussed in the U.S. Smirking sexual jokes by Jay Leno and the gang? No problem. Blush-worthy innuendo when selling cars, razors, or chewing gum? You bet. But actual sex? The most prominent person in the public eye who is still allowed to talk about sex as sex is Dr. Ruth Westheimer, whose jolly demeanor somehow gives her a pass. …