Sssh! We're Not Supposed To Be Talking About

the relative risk of male homosexual sexual conduct: So some commenters to this post seem to think. To recap: My earlier post noted in passing that male homosexual sex is much more dangerous for the men than is heterosexual sex. To my surprise, three people e-mailed me with fairly detailed messages that either denied or minimized these risks. I decided to respond, because this is actually an important point, on which people need to know the facts.

1. But wait! A couple of the commenters decided that this must show some "ulterior motives" and some presumably sinister "agenda," because of course my statement was "so obvious" that there was no legitimate reason for mentioning it. I get three e-mails (which I noted in my original post) denying the accuracy of my claim. None seem to be from cranks — one is from a Ph.D. who's also a founding father of the gay rights movement, and the two others are from people who seem to be quite articulate, thoughtful, and generally well-informed. You'd think there'd be two pretty obvious motives for my responding: (A) I want to rebut what seem to be important and dangerous misconceptions. (B) I want to respond to people's criticism of my assertion. Apparently not.

OK, though, I confess: I am developing an ulterior motive in writing about this stuff. The more people tell me not to write about things that strike me as important and perfectly legitimate to write about, the more I'm tempted to write about them. If people are trying to cow others into not discussing this information, then it's all the more important that we remain uncowed.

2. Several commenters also argued that posting this information was somehow improper because it might be misused (for instance, because it would "play right into the hands of the anti-gay right").

Well, I'm an academic, and my sense of the academic ethos — or at least the best of that ethos — is that we try to publish the facts, even when the facts may be used by bad people in bad arguments as well as by good people in good arguments. (Yes, there are obvious exceptions, perhaps such as publishing information about how anyone can brew up smallpox in his kitchen; but the very extremeness of this example should remind us how narrow these exceptions are.)

Lots of information related to race, sex, sexual orientation, and more can be and has been misused by bad people. Yet reasoned inquiry and debate can't proceed without it. You can't think seriously about criminal justice and crime control without recognizing the racial disparities in crime. You can't think seriously about the causes of disproportionate representation of men and women in certain fields without at least considering whether men and women might on average have important biological differences that might explain some of this disproportion. You can't think seriously about what public health strategies are needed to fight AIDS, about whether various existing strategies are being conducted usefully and honestly, about whether it's proper for sperm banks or blood banks to screen out gay donors, about why AIDS infection patterns are so different in Africa and in the U.S. — or for that matter, about how careful one should be in one's own sex life, or whether (if one is a bisexual) one should experiment with homosexual sexual behavior — without knowing the data about the demographics of HIV.

If people misuse the data I posted, I'm sorry, in the sense that I wish they didn't do that. But I'm not the least bit sorry I posted it. These are tremendously important facts; literally life-or-death facts for some. I'm going to keep posting information like this, because I believe that keeping quiet about it does far more harm than good. And the more I see people trying to stop others from distributing this information, the more important it seems to me that it be distributed.