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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.

Anonymous:
Interesting how your post has been criticized because it was supposedly:

1. False.

2. So obviously true that there is no reason to bring it up in the first place.
8.24.2005 2:19pm
Adam (mail) (www):
Let me get this straight:
If people misuse the data I post it, 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.

So there are people out there who aren't engaging in safe sex, but who will learn to do the right thing by visiting The Volokh Conspiracy?

My, you've expanded the website's mission.
8.24.2005 2:30pm
Artemis (mail):
Shame on you! This kind of reasoned, thoughtful argument plays directly into the hands of Fred Phelps! He and his minions are even now in the process of printing up this statement and pasting it onto their anti-gay signs: "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." It's the new slogan of the "God hates gays" movement -- and you have provided it.
8.24.2005 2:36pm
Bruce Garrett (mail) (www):
If people misuse the data I post it, I'm sorry, in the sense that I wish they didn't do that.

"...Once the rocket goes up who cares where it comes down...that's not my department..' says Wernher Von Braun..." -Tom Lehrer

What does it mean to "experiment with homosexual behavior"? Doing a double blind study where you don't know the sex of the person you're in the sack with, while someone who doesn't know what sex you are watches to see if you're more aroused by the males or the females? Acting like a stereotypical gay person for random test subjects to see whether gays or straights are more likely to be fooled? Shopping for clothes while pretending to be gay to see whether or not your decisions make better fashion sense?

Does anyone refer to it as experimenting with heterosexual behavior? Isn't it, "experimenting with sex" for heterosexuals? When was the last time you really looked at how you write about gay and lesbian people?
8.24.2005 2:37pm
Zaoem (mail):
It's fine to be controversial but it is better to be so in an interesting way. Presumably, the point of raising the conversion and dangerousness issues is to say something about supposed externalities of legalizing gay relationships (that is how the arguments get raised in political debates). But the relationship between legalizing gay relations and assumed conversion attempts by gays or on assumed dangerous behavior is not made clear, nor is it obvious. Observations take on meaning within a context. The controversy results from you having taken your observations outside of any context (hence the speculation on that context).
8.24.2005 2:41pm
jasmindad (mail):
Eugene, you are a very smart man, and ironically that fact makes it harder to give you a pass on things that might be conferred on a less smart or careful person. For example, it is a commonly expressed fear of anti-gay people that gays in schools or scouts will "convert" their kids to homosexuality. Your original posting could have avoided this red rag of a word -- as an academic question, you could have posed it as "Is it true that exposure to gays or a very gay-tolerant environment might lead certain percentage of the population to experiment with gay sex that they might not otherwise do?". In the discussion of this question, which you claim you have both a right and responsibility to engage in as an academic (I agree), throwing in a reference "in passing" to higher disease rates for gays, even if true, is waving another red rag that is not relevant at all. None of the main arguments in your original posting would be affected by this issue. Of course it is very relevant to the question of whether people should *worry* about their near and dear being "converted" to gay sex, but that was not the topic. As I said, with a less intelligent person, one might simply attribute the introduction of rhetorical elements to carelessness, but somehow it is harder to do it in your case.
8.24.2005 2:53pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
I would question something: "male homosexual sex is much more dangerous for the men".

Which men? It seems obvious to me that the man doing the inserting is likely to be at no greater risk than he would be with a woman, and the man receiving the insertion is at no greater risk than a woman would be. It's only more dangerous for men because there *are* no women, so 100% of any risk is borne by men.

That would lead me to this question: is there a greater danger of infection in homosexual sex than there is in heterosexual sex, REGARDLESS of gender?

I seriously doubt that would be found to be the case.
8.24.2005 2:57pm
jasmindad (mail):
I meant to say *such* rhetorical elements. Let me also complete the argument in my message.

I admit that overall I'd prefer that my children or more generally people I care about are heterosexual. This has nothing to do with any kind of condemnation, but simply due to recognition of the fact, contrary to Clayton Cramer's fantasies, it is very hard to be a gay person in our -- in almost any -- culture today. Having said that, I would also not worry that they would be "converted" to gayness. I love heterosexual sex, and I know that I cannot be "converted" to gay sex. Did I try it at some point? Yes. Was I converted? No. OTOH, if my child were gay, I'd much prefer that he or she find out and be comfortable with it, rather than be tortured by unknowns about his or her sexuality. I'd like my gay son or daughter to have as much opportunity, at the right time and with the right mental and emotional attitude, to explore his or her sexuality as I'd like my hetero son or daughter has.

Thus the whole question that Eugene raised and the way he posed it are still problematic for me with respect to his real goals (which BTW he might not be fully aware of or willing to examine).
8.24.2005 3:12pm
Anonymous:
Caliban:

It seems obvious to me that the man doing the inserting is likely to be at no greater risk than he would be with a woman, and the man receiving the insertion is at no greater risk than a woman would be.

Intuition is not a good substitute for medical knowledge. In fact, the skin of the rectum is thinner and more fragile than the skin of the vagina; and rectums are often tighter as well. All of which makes it much more like that the skin of the recipient will tear or bleed leading to infections. (And need I say, a little common sense should suggest that the place where defecation occurs is not likely to be a sanitary place for sexual activity.)
8.24.2005 3:22pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
The "relative risk of male homosexual conduct" doesn't strike me as an argument for anything. The truth is, male homosexual conduct includes many things that aren't really risky at all (i.e., kissing, mutual masturbation), some things that are not any more risky than the same acts when performed by heterosexuals (i.e., oral sex), and one thing that can be very risky but isn't that risky if performed with a condom (i.e., anal sex).

Further, STD's aren't the only risk out there. Pregnancy is another risk, and it falls exclusively on those people who have heterosexual vaginal sex. Should adults who might otherwise decide to have that type of sex be discouraged from it because there might be a pregnancy, despite the availability of preventive measures?

Additionally, if Professor Volokh's argument were taken seriously, it would mean that there's something wrong with trying to convince a straight guy to try a same-sex encounter, but absolutely nothing wrong with trying to convince a straight woman to try a same-sex encounter. After all, lesbian sex is even safer than heterosexual sex, as there is no risk of pregnancy and a low risk of STD transmission!

The truth is, people who decide that they are going to "experiment" with male-male anal sex (probably a very small subset of those male straights that "experiment" with someone of the same gender) should use condoms. And that isn't any different from the fact that someone who wants to "experiement" with penetrative sex with someone of the opposite sex should use condoms. I don't see any particular reason why people who want to have a protected sexual encounter with someone of the same sex should be discouraged from doing so.
8.24.2005 3:32pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Dilan: Well, I take my argument seriously, and my view is very close to what you describe (except that I'd use a weaker term than "something wrong"). As I wrote in my original post,
I don't think there's anything inherently immoral about such attempt to convert people away from purely heterosexual behavior, if they are interested in homosexual behavior . . . . If it weren't for the disproportionate and grave health danger from male homosexual activity, I'd think such encouragement to explore which relationships give people the most happiness would be positively quite good. . . . Given this danger, I'd prefer that men with bisexual orientations who can be happy with women not experiment with men; but that's a judgment about medical risk, not about the inherent morality of "conversion" attempts, and in any event it doesn't apply to lesbianism.
And if your argument were a reductio ad absurdum, I don't see why this bottom line is so absurd. It's only absurd if I think there's anything immoral or improper about homosexual behavior as such (or getting orientational bisexuals to try homosexual behavior) -- which I most certainly don't. If the focus is on avoiding health risks, then my position is not at all absurd.

As to your suggestion to use condoms, I'll echo it -- but we also have to understand its limits. As I also wrote in my original post, "Yes, I realize that the danger can be reduced by not engaging in anal sex, always using a condom, not having sex with a partner unless he's been tested and had not had sex for some months before the test, and so on. But most people are not nearly this cautious, and the reality thus remains that, given the vastly disproportionate prevalence of HIV among gays in America today, the greater risk from anal sex, a practice that for understandable reasons many male homosexuals do not want to forego, and the notorious difficulty with getting people to actually practice safe practices -- whether aimed at preventing disease or conception -- the fact remains that experimenting with male homosexuality is dangerous activity." And given that one thing often leads to another, and that people realize that they sometimes will get caught up and won't be as cautious as they could be, that is a reason for orientational male bisexuals who are happy enough just with women to be hesitant about experimenting with their homosexual side.
8.24.2005 3:54pm
Bryan DB:
Caliban,
More than one study has found that anal sex is far riskier than vaginal sex in HIV transmission. AAccordingly, it would seem that your doubt about the relative safety of those two types of sex is wrong.

Prof. Volokh,
As one (former) academic to another, I totally agree with your comments, which imply "let the data fall where they may." On the other hand, I notice the subtle signs of bias that creep into your writing on this topic. For example, though this is ostensibly a post about whether one should give up controversial research, you still put in this: "whether (if one is a bisexual) one should experiment with homosexual sexual behavior." Can it really be called "experimenting" if one does what one is (presumably) genetically predisposed to do? What one might say is "engage in" NOT "experiment with," and it's the difference between those two that gives away your feelings on the subject.
8.24.2005 3:55pm
Cory Olson (mail):
As I always love to point out:

We can label Galileo a heretic, but that does not mean the sun revolves around the earth.
8.24.2005 3:58pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Can it really be called "experimenting" if one does what one is (presumably) genetically predisposed to do? What one might say is "engage in" NOT "experiment with," and it's the difference between those two that gives away your feelings on the subject.

I think you're seeing what you want to see. We talk about teens "experimenting with sex" all the time, in a context unrelated to sexual orientation issues.
8.24.2005 4:14pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Can it really be called "experimenting" if one does what one is (presumably) genetically predisposed to do?
The assumption of genetic predisposition is just that: an assumption. The fact is that we really don't know for sure what causes homosexuality. There may be many causes--and anyone who says for sure that this is not a learned behavior is kidding themselves. Previously straight men go into prison (or become sailors) and start having homosexual sex. Were they bisexuals before? Or did they start because there were no women available?

We know that many sexual abuse victims have all sorts of problems with their sexuality as adults. Some women become frigid; others become highly promiscuous. Some studies suggest that female prison inmates are very disproportionately survivors of child sexual abuse. Does anyone think it likely that these sexual problems were genetic or congenital, and not the consequences of what happened at an early age?
8.24.2005 4:16pm
Greg (www):
Here's the ironic thing. Your argument yesterday was a narrowing of the definition of the "myth" of straight conversion from what the reasonable person would believe that phrase meant (getting a purely straight guy to have sex with men) to something no one would object to (reducing social pressures to be straight so that a bisexual would feel comfortable exploring his sexuality). Professor Kerr was charitable in calling it fundamentally a "question of definition," while I believe it was a deliberate equivocation.

Today's argument, that homosexuality is dangerous (!) can only be defended by conflating the definition of homosexuality with a particular homosexual practice, condomless anal sex. The problem with this conflation is clear from the solutions proposed. If homosexuality is the problem, then as you propose (at least for bisexual men who are comfortable having sex with women) is not to have sex with men. If the two ideas don't have complete overlap, then the solution is DON'T HAVE UNPROTECTED ANAL INTERCOURSE! What is it with you and definitions, Volokh?
8.24.2005 4:46pm
Quarterican (mail):
Two comments on this (as yet still wieldy) thread:

(1) Yes, we speak about teenagers "experimenting" with "sex." But we also speak about "experimenting with homosexuality" in a way that we don't speak about "experimenting with heterosexuality." My first kiss was an experiment in kissing, not in being heterosexual; genetic predispsition or no, if a teenager feels himself innately attracted to boys, and his first kiss is a boy, we label that in a different manner than we label my experience. Someone on another thread said that this kind of semantic awareness/hairsplitting is the province of those who (paraphrasing) "wrap themselves in identity politics". Identity politics is the product of being reminded in a thousand subtle ways by the "mainstream" that you are Other.

(2) Men and women have anal sex. I don't know the statistics on how many do vs. gay men, and I expect that it's a much smaller percentage, but they do. Hopefully protected, often un-. This shouldn't need to be said, but there's been a lot of, as in Dilan Esper's comment, eliding of this fact, as though anal was the provenance of teh gay.
8.24.2005 4:55pm
Perseus (mail):
This is reminiscent of the Larry Summers and women in the sciences flap @ Harvard, though Prof. Volokh (who doesn't hold a top administrative position) posssesses the courage of his convictions.
8.24.2005 5:17pm
DanB:
What does it mean to "experiment with homosexual behavior"?

The same as it means to experiment with any other kind of behavior -- to try it, to see if you enjoy it.

Does anyone refer to it as experimenting with heterosexual behavior?

I've heard plenty of homosexuals say that they experimented with heterosexual behavior when they were younger, before fully accepting that they were, in fact, not into that sort of thing. There are plenty of non-bisexuals in the world who try sex with one gender before switching to the other -- not because they're gluttons for punishment who enjoy bad sex, but because they weren't sure what their true orientation was.
8.24.2005 5:19pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
We have to compare apples to apples here. I didn't intend to compare anal sex to vaginal sex. I intended to compare anal sex with a man to anal sex with a woman, because you can't HAVE vaginal sex with a man. It's the only sensible comparison in this case. I should have been more clear about that.

If neither is more likely than the other to result in an HIV transmission, then I think we'd pretty much have to admit that homosexual sex doesn't have any specific danger that isn't shared by heterosexual sex.

A lesbian has pointed out that the incidence of HIV transmission between lesbians is awfully low across the board, which could presumably skew the skewed results for men right back to unskewed again.
8.24.2005 6:04pm
Brett Bellmore (mail):
While it is technically true that a man can have anal sex with a woman, the effects in terms of disease propagation are limited, because the relatively low rate of transmission from women to men makes women "firebreaks" for disease transmission.
8.24.2005 9:43pm
Cala:
Prof. Volokh,

Very few conservatives, as Orin Kerr pointed out, fear 'conversion' of bi people to gay people; likewise, when liberals say that being around gay people doesn't cause anyone to be gay, they're meaning, one would presume, that het people won't spontaneously become gay just because society is more open.

If it weren't for the disproportionate and grave health danger from male homosexual activity...

Unprotected anal sex has been recognized as more dangerous than unprotected vaginal sex for some time; and your thought experiment with the numbers obviously doesn't add any real scientific data to the discussion. There are 50,000 new AIDS cases in Texas since 1993. That's the only fact. From there we have assumptions that all those cases are from anal sex, that the 4% figure of identified gays is useful for predicting the % of men likely to have engaged in anal sex, and then an (acknowledged) problem with counting who has died, stayed in state, was diagnosed in Texas but wasn't living in the state.

Then there's the dubious statistical conclusion that if an n% of a studied population which has a certain condition, that the chance of an individual in that population having that condition is n%. Usually, you can't take statistics down to the level of an individual for predictions about what that person should do.

So what we've got is a 'conversion problem' no one on either side of the aisle is seriously worried about, and a thought experiment that shows that if a series of assumptions are true, then people in this group as a group are at a higher risk (but it doesn't say much about the individual's chances or choices), wrapped up in the banner of academic ethos and freedom, with some uncharacteristic paternalism for good measure.

A real study that gauged the risk would be useful information (and even then, doesn't wholly determine a course of action); this ain't it.
8.24.2005 9:58pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I think that Eugene is right about this.

One of my big gripes about the AIDS epidemic is that it is an STD, at least primarily, in this country (yes, we also have the drug problem, and, in times past, blood). We know how to, to some extent, combat STDs. At one time, what was done was to trace an STD through partners. Of course, at that time, most STDs were treatable, and, as far as I know, we don't yet have a cure for AIDS. But, tracing partners would have had the advantage of letting those who were infectious know that they were. But this went out the window with AIDs. Those proposing it were labeled "homophobic".

Arguing whether anal or vaginal intercourse is more dangerous, or whether or not hetrosexuals participate in the former, are all irrelevant to the real problem, which is that AIDS in this country is primarily (over half the victims) a Gay STD. Face it. And then use this to decide how best to combat it.

And note, I am not suggesting that Gays give up any type of sex, or, indeed, anything of the kind. Or that they go stright. That is their choice.

But maybe if we started treating it like what it is, an STD, we could make more progress. For example, a prostitute in Denver was repeatedly jailed for tricking after she knew that she was HIV positive. Well, there is some indication that some of that happens in the Gay community - guys continuing to have sex, and, indeed, moving to unprotected sex, after being diagnosed as HIV positive. Should some guy (straight or Gay) who knows that he is HIV positive be having unprotected sex with uniformed partners? And why is that any different from the prostitute who spent so much time in Denver's jails?

My point, BTW, is not to suggest the later, but just to bring it up as one thing that might be considered, if AIDS were viewed as an STD instead of just a random occurance.
8.24.2005 10:18pm
spot:
Why is this a tough concept for people? Lets say that everyone heterosexual couple in america started having anal sex instead of vaginal sex. The HIV rate among homosexual men would be far above the HIV rate among heterosexual men. Stating the fact that its just really really tough for a woman to transmit hiv to her partner does not constitute homophibia.
8.24.2005 11:58pm
snuh (mail):
for all i know it's probably true that anal sex is more dangerous than other forms of sexual contact. but the phrase "homosexual male conduct" is not a substitute for anal sex. heterosexual people engage in anal sex, both man:man [i.e., prison sex], and woman:man [for the sake of variety].

you claim to be very concerned about the "life and death" issues involved here, yet you constantly seek to limit your public health warning to the "homosexual male". i am not entitled to draw the obvious conclusion?
8.25.2005 2:28am
Cala:

Why is this a tough concept for people? Lets say that everyone heterosexual couple in america started having anal sex instead of vaginal sex. The HIV rate among homosexual men would be far above the HIV rate among heterosexual men. Stating the fact that its just really really tough for a woman to transmit hiv to her partner does not constitute homophibia.


Except that that's just not true. It's difficult for the recipient of anal sex, regardless of gender, to transmit HIV to the inserter. As far as I know, it makes no difference if the anal-sex 'bottom' is a man or a woman in terms of transmission rates. Vaginal sex is less risky for everyone, but is still more risky for the woman than it is for the man.

If every couple in the U.S. started having anal sex (and we'll assuming that someone is cheating on his wife, because two people who are not infected and monongamous of course do not contract AIDS), the transmission pattern you'd see is that more women and more gay men would become infected. It could possibly be higher for gay men, assuming that people are not always bottoms (this is Brett's point up above), but I don't really have any data on that.

The problem is with unprotected anal sex, though; having unprotected anal sex with a woman may be less risky for you, but it isn't for her. Having unprotected vaginal sex ain't that great for her, either. Still, while pointing out that gay men have a higher rate of transmission of HIV isn't homophobic, assuming that HIV is something that could be eradicated solely by ensuring that no one was homosexual is either homophobic or woefully misinformed.
8.25.2005 10:24am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I didn't intend to compare anal sex to vaginal sex. I intended to compare anal sex with a man to anal sex with a woman, because you can't HAVE vaginal sex with a man. It's the only sensible comparison in this case. I should have been more clear about that.

If neither is more likely than the other to result in an HIV transmission, then I think we'd pretty much have to admit that homosexual sex doesn't have any specific danger that isn't shared by heterosexual sex.
This is such an absurd statement that I almost wonder if it was intended as satire.

1. Yes, heterosexual couples do have anal sex--but from all the surveys that I have read, this is a minority of heterosexual couples. There are doubtless homosexual couples who never have anal sex--but this is doubtless a small minority.

2. Because there are few homosexual men who are exclusively recipients of anal sex--and women are guaranteed to never be performing anal sex--heterosexual anal sex will never be as risky for spreading AIDS through a community.

3. Women are on average less promiscuous than men, and heterosexual men are on average less promiscuous than homosexual men. This means that even if one is comparing only the AIDS transmission risks of anal sex, homosexual anal sex is more risky than heterosexual anal sex.
8.25.2005 2:29pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Dilan Esper asks:

Further, STD's aren't the only risk out there. Pregnancy is another risk, and it falls exclusively on those people who have heterosexual vaginal sex. Should adults who might otherwise decide to have that type of sex be discouraged from it because there might be a pregnancy, despite the availability of preventive measures?
1. Pregnancy isn't lethal (except in a fraction of 1% of cases).

2. Pregnancy isn't contagious.

3. The average pregnancy costs a few thousand dollars; treating the average AIDS case burns more than that in a single year.

It is almost funny the arguments that homosexuals make to defend anal sex.
8.25.2005 2:32pm
Jimmy (mail):
Bruce,

HIV is treated almost exactly like an STD by public health authorities. Whenever someone tests positive for HIV (and some other STDs), their information is relayed to a local health department. A Disease Intervention Specialist (DIS) then interviews the newly infected person and collects all sorts of information about them including how they were exposed and who they possibly exposed (sex/needle sharing contacts). The DIS then follows up to track down the contacts for that person to encourage them to get tested. The DIS is forbidden by law from revealing who referred him or her to the contact.

This is exactly the procedure used to track down those exposed to some other, less serious STDs. Depending on the case load, some DIS can go out and track down the contacts of those who tested positive for gonorrhea or chlamydia but, with limited staff, they usually focus on HIV and syphilis.
8.25.2005 2:57pm
DSEK:
Greg seems correct when he suggests that the difficulty with Professor Volokh's is the conflation of sexual activity with other aspects of "sexual" identity.

Would it be helpful to invert the analogy and invent a hypothetical serious disease spread almost exclusively by hetersexual conduct? Let's say oral stimulation of the clitoris by a man has been demonstrated to cause a significant increase in a particularly lethal STD among heterosexuals when compared to the incidence of the same STD in the gay male population. One would assume that heterosexuals are significantly more likely to engage in risky such oral sex than gay men. Accordingly, using Professor Volokh's formulation, bisexuals who might be happy with same-sex relations should be discouraged from heterosexual relationships (might they be encouraged to have same-sex relations?). More to the point, efforts at "converting" bisexuals to heterosexuality would be misplaced and, possibly, irresponsible.

But of course, there are lots of good reasons why a hypothetical on-the-fence bisexual could be encouraged to "become" heterosexual: ease of procreation, the convenience of complying with cultural norms, etc. And I don't think that a straight would be considered somehow careless for advocating this.

So, even if the "conversion" entails additional health risk, I think it would be wrong to assume that the "conversion" should necessarily not be encouraged and those advocating the "conversion" are irresponsible.
8.25.2005 2:59pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
-- 1. Pregnancy isn't lethal (except in a fraction of 1% of cases).

2. Pregnancy isn't contagious.

3. The average pregnancy costs a few thousand dollars; treating the average AIDS case burns more than that in a single year. --

I think he was making a slightly different and quite profound point. Or if not, let me make it.

"Cost" refers more than to just direct dollars and cents cost. Of course, irresponsible homosexual sex has costs which may appear to be more directly costly than irresponsible heterosexual sex in terms of $$ to treat AIDS as well as the less direct, but no less real costs imposed on those homosexuals themselves in terms of living with a disease, suffering, shortened lifespans and all that.

But in examining the larger picture, it seems to me, irresponsible heterosexual sex unquestionably exacts far, far greater costs on society. Irresponsible homosexual sex is responsible for few if any cases of:

1) Divorce,

2) Abortions,

3) Out of wedlock births.

These are all, for the most part, consequences of irresponsible heterosexual sex. Collectively they cost society far more than irresponsible homosexual sex. And even if we could control and examine a "per capita" homosexual "cost" of irresponsible gay sex v. a "per capita" heterosexual "cost" of irresponsible heterosexual sex, the costs associated with irresponsible heterosexuality would still far outweigh homosexual costs.

Cramer's pregnancy analysis doesn't take into account the cost of welfare and medical care payments to unwed mothers who have babies out of wedlock. Less directly, but still no less relevant are the greater rates of poverty, crime, and educational failure that are caused by out of wedlock births by young uneducated mothers.

Just go to any neighborhood where out of wedlock teen births are the norm and then compare and contrast with neighborhoods where homosexuality is the norm or overrepresented and the results are literally like night and day. See which property is more "livable" judged by market rates. Which is more expensive or affordable: Provincetown, MA, or Camden, NJ?
8.25.2005 3:20pm
Quarterican (mail):
Clayton E. Cramer -

Where, on this thread, has anyone - avowed homosexual or otherwise - defended unprotected and promiscuous anal sex? No one's denying that the evidence suggests that unprotected and promiscuous anal sex is more dangerous than, say, unprotected/promiscuous vaginal sex. And while there is a correlation between homosexuality and u/p anal sex, conflating them doesn't do anybody any favors.

If our host actually started this discussion because he was interested in the public good, and if we can agree that the public good in this case = containment of HIV/AIDS, here's a hint: proselytizing the dangers of "homosexual activity" isn't going to persuade any currently unsafe gays, whereas proselytizing the dangers of "unprotected sexual activity" might actually be received without an assumption of bigotry.* The distribution of HIV/AIDS in our population - as far as I understand it, though it's been some time since I read on the subject - is a result of two historically contingent factors: (a) the historical accident of who the first people introducing it into North America were, and (b) the configuration at that time of gay culture in San Francisco, New York, etc., which changed radically in response to the epidemic. Hyping AIDS as a "gay disease" fails because it makes it less likely that gays will listen to you and less likely that straights will think it affects them. Of course, I'm a big fan of condoms for everyone.

*The catch being that I could imagine someone receiving such a pitch skeptically unless it's matched with a similar call for heterosexual safe sex, which isn't something our national leaders are exactly chomping at the bit for.
8.25.2005 3:28pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

And while there is a correlation between homosexuality and u/p anal sex, conflating them doesn't do anybody any favors.
It doesn't do you any favors, but it is an accurate description of a big part of the gay community. You are familiar with the expression "barebacking"?


The catch being that I could imagine someone receiving such a pitch skeptically unless it's matched with a similar call for heterosexual safe sex, which isn't something our national leaders are exactly chomping at the bit for.
Huh? Unprotected promiscuous heterosexual sex is, while not quite as risky as unprotected promiscuous homosexual sex, is still pretty darn hazardous, and yes, a lot of national leaders are "chomping at the bit for." I've blogged quite a bit over the last two years about the hazards of unprotected promiscuous heterosexual sex, because it is spreading HPV, causing an enormous number of women to die of cervical cancer.
8.26.2005 12:47pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Irresponsible homosexual sex is responsible for few if any cases of:

1) Divorce,

2) Abortions,

3) Out of wedlock births.

These are all, for the most part, consequences of irresponsible heterosexual sex.
I agree that there are definitely costs to irresponsible heterosexual sex. And guess what? There are people who speak against irresponsible heterosexual sex. And they are the same people who speak against homosexuality. It is your allies on the left who won't speak against irresponsible heterosexual sex.

Collectively they cost society far more than irresponsible homosexual sex.
This is probably true, simply because heterosexuals have homo/bisexuals outnumbered about 30:1.
And even if we could control and examine a "per capita" homosexual "cost" of irresponsible gay sex v. a "per capita" heterosexual "cost" of irresponsible heterosexual sex, the costs associated with irresponsible heterosexuality would still far outweigh homosexual costs.
I'm not sure that this is true. The change from AFDC to TANF in 1995 has dramatically changed the welfare dependency picture in this country, altering the economic costs to the nation. Consider how long it takes for an AIDS patient to die (often 5-10 years or more)—and how much it costs to care for them (often $15,000 a year or more while the patient is still reasonably well). Then consider that welfare dependency is increasingly a short-term matter—a few years. It isn't clear that per capita costs make irresponsible heterosexual sex worse.

Divorce and illegitimacy impose significant intangible costs on the society, and I've written at length about the destructive effects. For the most part, however, these economic costs are relatively minor.
8.26.2005 12:57pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

The distribution of HIV/AIDS in our population - as far as I understand it, though it's been some time since I read on the subject - is a result of two historically contingent factors: (a) the historical accident of who the first people introducing it into North America were, and (b) the configuration at that time of gay culture in San Francisco, New York, etc., which changed radically in response to the epidemic. Hyping AIDS as a "gay disease" fails because it makes it less likely that gays will listen to you and less likely that straights will think it affects them.
Ah, no. This was no accident. I've read that a very few AIDS cases have been found by going back through tissue samples from the 1950s and 1960s. What made AIDS spread like wildfire through the gay community was widespread promiscuity. You claim that the culture has "changed radically." Sorry, but there are too many newspaper accounts that indicate otherwise. The generation that survived the 1980s may well have changed its behavior (those that didn't are dead), but the PnP circuit, and the rapidly growing incidence of syphilis and AIDS (almost entirely among gay men) shows that the culture of promiscuous unprotected sex is still kicking.

What really made AIDS take off when it did? The disease was around--but until the mid-1970s, homosexuality was unlawful in California. I can remember efforts by then Assemblyman Willie Brown to get the legislature to repeal the laws against sodomy, and I couldn't for the life of me imagine who these morons were who opposed the effort.

There were homosexuals before the laws were repealed, of course--but because it was unlawful, it forced a little discretion on the homosexual subculture. You didn't have bath houses where anyone could enter, where bottoms lay face down for whatever guy wanted to come along and sodomize them.
8.26.2005 1:07pm
Quarterican (mail):
Clayton E. Cramer -

Yes, I'm familiar with the term "barebacking". That doesn't address my point. I made an argument that while there is much higher correlation between unprotected anal sex and homosexual practice than between the former and heterosexual practice, they were not the same. I feel that therefore they should not be used interchangably; part of my feeling about this is for the pragmatic reasons I went into in the next paragraph of my post. I was unaware of the evidence suggesting cases of AIDS as far back as the 1950s or 1960s. Again, though, you didn't refute my contention, which was that the manner in which AIDS spread, leading to the current demographics, was historically contingent, by which I meant due to factors about those demographics which weren't/aren't set in stone and unchangeable. I didn't say "the culture changed...gay people stopped being promiscuous. All of them, everywhere." The bath house culture sure as hell changed. A lot has happened since then - public paranoia about AIDS has, by all accounts, died down (I'm too young to know what it was like in the '80s), amazingly effective drugs have come on the market, a younger generation doesn't feel/didn't experience the '80s, etc. My point was and remains that there is nothing inherent to being gay that makes someone all AIDS-prone, or that inherently makes homosexual activity more dangerous. All of this is would have been preventable/different/is changeable with safe sex. Which brings us to:

Huh? Unprotected promiscuous heterosexual sex is, while not quite as risky as unprotected promiscuous homosexual sex, is still pretty darn hazardous, and yes, a lot of national leaders are "chomping at the bit for." I've blogged quite a bit over the last two years about the hazards of unprotected promiscuous heterosexual sex, because it is spreading HPV, causing an enormous number of women to die of cervical cancer.

Cool, good for you. And congratulations, by the way; I didn't know you were a national leader. Perhaps you could use your influence to (a) pressure your peers (the President, the majority leaders of Congress) to talk seriously about the importance of having safe sex? or (b) use your national influence to talk to the appropriate states/school districts about the importance of sex education that incorporates serious information about safe sex into its pleas for abstinence?
8.26.2005 2:54pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
-- Divorce and illegitimacy impose significant intangible costs on the society, and I've written at length about the destructive effects. For the most part, however, these economic costs are relatively minor. --

As any social scientist will tell you those "significant intangible costs on the society" have direct economic consequences as well. And in any event, the social costs associated with irresponsible heterosexual sex are without question more serious and [should be] a greater matter of public concern (even on a per capita level) than irresponsible homosexual sex.

Just go into any neighborhood where teen out-of-wedlock births are the norm and compare them to neighborhoods where homosexuality is the norm. If you are simply looking at the economic costs (dollar payments) of all of the welfare payments made to single mothers in the slums, you are obviously missing the big picture. Look at the differentials in real estate values. Or what about the myriad of costs associated with the violent crime that accompanies out of wedlock births.

And it matters not who does or doesn't speak out against what. The unrefuted, and I think irrefutable thesis, that I have put forth is that the social costs of irresponsible heterosexual sex on an individual level far outweigh the social costs of irresponsible homosexual sex. I'd like to see all antigay social conservatives concede this (and then realign their priorities).
8.26.2005 7:18pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):
Jon Rowe, there are so many problems with your posts it is hard to address them all.


The unrefuted, and I think irrefutable thesis, that I have put forth is that the social costs of irresponsible heterosexual sex on an individual level far outweigh the social costs of irresponsible homosexual sex.


Misapplication of burden of proof, 15 yard penalty.


I'd like to see all antigay social conservatives concede this (and then realign their priorities).


Demanding that someone change their efforts because you have identified a 'riskier activity' is rather novel: Have you written to MADD demanding they immediately disband and turn their efforts towards something that kills more people per year? Of course not.

Besides, that argument backfires badly for you: I think it's rather irrefutable that Professor Volokh examining the issues causes far less damage to the gay movement than people who are bigoted enough that you don't need an Ouija board and a political axe to 'detect' gay bias. Therefore, you should, by your own standards, concede this and realign your priorities.

Goodbye!
8.26.2005 11:01pm
Portinari:
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.

You shouldn't post anything about the intelligence of people of African ancestry(as measured by IQ tests) and its correlation with their economic status.
8.27.2005 2:32am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Ryan,

I wasn't directing my comments towards Volokh whom I do not consider to be antigay, but rather those people like Clayton Cramer, the FRC, CWFA, TVA, who often obsess over homosexuality, when obviously there are far more serious things about which to be concerned.
8.27.2005 9:39am