a bird and a bottle

Hook-Ups and Harm? Or Hook-ups and Health?

I’ve been wanting to blog about this all week, but haven’t had the chance. I don’t have the time now either, but I’m sick of working. So here goes.

Earlier this week, a friend sent me a column from the Arizona Republic called “Misery U: Hookup Culture Leaves Casualties.” The author, Dr. Miriam Grossman, takes college health providers to task for creating a culture in which it’s ok for kids to experiment with their sexuality in a relatively protected environment.

If you can get past how badly written the piece is, you’ll see that she is particularly huffy about Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University’s amazing and respected sexual health Q&A website (there’s also a book). Grossman is mad — shocked even — that the Alice website answers college kids’ (and other people’s — anyone can ask a question through the Alice website) questions about sexuality, whether it’s a decision about having sex for the first time, a worry about an STD, a question about masturbation, or a concern about an emotional health issue. Alice is non-judgmental and respects the worries and vulnerabilities of people who pose questions.

And Grossman just can’t stand it. She writes:

OK, hold on a minute. As a health expert, Alice, aren’t you forgetting a few things?

Let’s start with this: These young women who have turned to you are adolescents, and that likely means their cervix is immature and more vulnerable to infection. Surely you’ve studied basic gynecology and know about the transformation zone, where human papillomavirus (HPV) has infected about half of sexually active college women, usually from one of their first encounters. Did you forget that this area shrinks with time, making infection less likely? This fact alone behooves you to urge these women to wait.

Sounds innocuous enough, right? She’s a healthcare provider and she’s worried about high HPV infection rates. Except she wants to treat college-age women, who are somewhere between adolescent and adult, as if they are infants. Oh, and she fails to mention the new vaccine that prevents HPV.

Dr. Grossman goes on like this for several ever more exasperating paragraphs. And then she gets to her main point. Which isn’t really about women’s health at all, or about education women how to prevent STDs. Nope. It’s about the fact that Dr. Grossman actually kinda likes the patriarchal social structures that sex education and the use of contraception can help fight against. Think I’m exaggerating? Take it from the doctor herself:

One freshman whose first “real” boyfriend had just dumped her wanted to know, “Why, Dr. Grossman, do they warn you about STDs and pregnancy, but they don’t tell you what it does to your heart?”

What could I tell her? In my profession, common sense has vanished. It has been replaced by social agendas. The ideology of “anything goes,” “women are just like men,” “abortion is benign,” “sex is a recreational activity” is alive and well in much of campus health and counseling.

Still not sure? Well how about this: just a few paragraphs later, Dr. Grossman further hones her argument. It’s just the women you see who have to wait. Because, as she noted above, she doesn’t think women are like men. It’s ok for boys to explore their sexuality in college, but girls, you better keep your legs crossed.

But wait! There’s more!

A mountain of research highlights the differences between male and female. We once had a few STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), easily treated with antibiotics. Now, we have over a dozen, including some deadly viruses that have no cure. And even research cited by Planned Parenthood, supporting the notion that most women have no long-term emotional consequences from abortions, indicates that two years later, 20 percent felt that termination of their pregnancy had done more harm than good.

I’m so sick of this tactic, which starts with something that sounds fairly commonsense: STDs are bad, we don’t want college kids to get them. From there, there’s the requisite attack on today’s social norms which allow girls to be slutty, er, I mean explore their sexuality before settling down and popping out babies. And the fin de siecle? No good at all can come from healthy sexuality. Only bad. And bad is abortion.

Because, folks, these days the attacks on contraception, comprehensive sex education, and abortion are all tied together. It’s not about being pro-fetal-life. It’s about being pro-women-in-the-kitchen. The false concern for women’s emotional well being Dr. Grossman exhibits here (much like that of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute) is just a pretext for judging and coercing women.

Dr. Grossman shakes her finger in her column at bloggers who will call her anti-female or right wing. But she doesn’t deny it. Because, let’s face it, she’s sorta proud of it.


8 Comments so far
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Kudos to your rebuttal! Well put! Dr. Grossman’s false concern is blatant, pandering to our ultra-conservative society. Unfortunately, Dr. Grossman’s book is far too popular.

Comment by cityteacher

This really is a disturbing trend (including the so-called breast cancer institute). Pseudo-science, however, seems like an area where – in the long term – the anti-abortion movement is likely to falter. In the short term, however, it’s disturbing. no doubt.

Comment by professorplum

Thanks a lot for the post! There’s a lot of “good advice” out there that is really all about showing women “their place,” a masked re-domestication and a silent war waged against free thinking. It’s especially terrifying when women do it to women.

I used to think that this happened in societies that were tied to ‘traditional values,’ had an overwhelming part of the population in a particular church, and a short tradition of democracy. But I see it happening everywhere… The mind boggles.

I think and hope, though, that something can be done against this. It starts, of course, with noticing what is going on. And then for standing up for your freedom. However, when your ‘innate feminine vulnerability’ and — more importantly — health risk is called upon, it gets almost too hazy to fight back… But NOT impossible.

Comment by januaries

[…] read the discussion at Feministing.org along with the linked articles and comments to get a fuller picture of these grand initiatives aimed at reducing women to helpless idiots that […]

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I have read Dr. Grossman’s book and seen her speak a few times. I have not read the article that you are citing here, but I would recommend reading her book. After watching two of my best friends go through cervical cancer scares, and other friends have fears that they would never be able to have children because they had chlamydia and were worried about getting pelvic inflammatory disease, I started to listen to people like Dr. Grossman. I have seen so many of my friends get so deeply hurt (physically and emotionally) by sexual encounters that they later had deep regrets about.

There is no such thing as ‘healthy experimenting’ in an age when over 75% of college students will contract an STD before graduation. Condoms are only up to 70% effective against most STDs (ask your gynecologist if you don’t believe me), so practicing ‘safer’ sex won’t necessarily save you. I urge you to try and look past your political biases and take a second look at what Dr. Grossman and other like her have to say. Take care!

Comment by Theo

Oh, woops, I also forgot to say. Acknowledging the differences between men and women is not an attempt to put women back in their place (ie the kitchen). Rather, it is the only way to comprehensively approach women’s health. For example, women need to take iron pills and men do not because women lose iron during menstruation. If Dr. Grossman wanted women to stay in the kitchen, she probably would be in the kitchen herself, pandering to the every need of her husband and many children. Instead, she went to medical school and worked as a psychiatrist at a top university, wrote two books, and goes on nation-wide speaking tours.

Comment by Theo

Thanks for such an informative post about cancer.I need this info because my friends mother is suffering from Cervical Cancer, information mention in this article will greatly help me in offering her some advice.
thank you

Comment by Laura

Sorry to say this but biology is itself sexist and ignoring that fact is foolish. Women are NOT just like men. Promiscuity is risky behavior that puts people’s physical and emotional health at risk. It is established fact that women are more susceptible to STDs and emotional repercussions from uncommitted sex. Dr. Grossman is not trying to put ‘women in their place,’ but warn girls that there are consequences for their actions. She was afraid to reveal her identity because her job would be at risk for posing this ‘politically incorrect’ point that was costing young girls’ lives.

Comment by Sarah

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