Ross Olson's Web Site

Social Issues: Letters

September 29, 1992

Dear TAMS TALK Members,

I am the person who spoiled the celebration of your governor's award at Minneapolis Children's Medical Center on August 18 by saying that some of your skits made me sad.

I think you did a reasonable job on racism and drug abuse, except for the fairy tale endings, "and they went to TAMS and lived happily ever after." The place you completely missed the boat was where most of our society has also missed it, on the topic of sex.

What I would really like to do is talk to each of you individually, but that seems unlikely to happen. Yet, because you are intelligent and desire to help your peers, I believe that you want to be sure that you are actually doing the right thing.

Because of this, there are certain questions that you need to discuss with your leader, Patty Murphy, as well as with some of the doctors and nurses at TAMS. You should want to hear and understand all arguments against what you are doing. If mine are not the best, you should be listening for better ones. This is because, if you are really right, you should be able to honestly counter all those arguments.

Teachers need to be sure that they are teaching truth. Teachers take responsibility not only for themselves but also for those who accept and act on their teaching.

Here are some questions. Because your leaders should have nothing to hide, there ought to be no problem discussing them. If you want to invite me to come and be part of the discussion, I would be very happy to do so.

1. Ask your leaders, "If you had available the partner of your dreams and knew that person carried the HIV virus, would you have sex, depending on a condom for protection?"

Dr. Theresa Crenshaw asked that question in front of 800 sexologists on June 19, 1987. After a long delay, one hand was raised. (Testimony before the US House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, June 18, 1987, published in "Will 'Safe Sex' Education Effectively Combat AIDS?" by US Department of Education, January 22, 1988.)

2. Do you know that the failure rate for condoms may be as high as 18% per year when used by teenagers to prevent pregnancies and about 17% for preventing the transmission of HIV? (Grady, William R., et. al., "Contraceptive Failure in the United States," Family Planning Perspectives, September/October 1986, pp. 200-209; Fischl, Margaret A., et. al.,"Heterosexual Transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): Relationship of Sexual Practices to Seroconversion," III International Conference on AIDS, June 1 - 5, 1987 Abstracts Volume, p 178.)

Maybe you would like to argue that number down to 13% or even 10% with other studies. Remember that the risk is cumulative. It means that if the risk is 10% in one year, it is about 20% over two years, and goes up every year. It is not 100% in 10 years, but it becomes a very high probability. Even a 5% risk adds up fast.

How many years do you intend to continue having sex with different partners who might be infected?

3. If teenagers cannot control themselves, what argument can you use against date rape? A guy can say, "Sure, she refused, but it was not realistic to cool off once I was worked up." Or, more often, he will say, "I thought she was just being coy." Then a jury might deliberate for days to decide if consent was given or not. How can you expect the guy to think about controlling himself in the heat of the moment if the basic message about sexuality is "it is not realistic to wait?"

Maybe you say, "Well, he can just wait for a willing partner, but can't wait for years until he gets married. If so, what about the person who is only attracted to children? They may say, "Hey, this is the way I am. I have to act on it." What about the person who only gets pleasure from seeing other people hurt or killed.

Don't depend on therapy to "cure" them all. the record is not good. Most of them cannot be located, and even if they are identified will claim that they, too, are normal and should have their rights.

My point is that unless you believe in complete barbarism where the strong take what they can get and the weak have no rights, you will be asking some people at some times to curb their sexual impulses. If that is true, then sexual impulses cannot be irresistible.

4. Do you understand that if two people wait for each other, enter into a permanent relationship and stay faithful in that relationship, they will not get sexually transmitted diseases?

This is a scientific and mathematical fact. One faithful partner for life, or no partners, and you do not spread disease if both are free of disease in the beginning. Even so, When I said this at a parent meeting to Kathy Anlauf, then Health Coordinator for Minneapolis Public Schools a couple of years ago, she said, "Well, that's your opinion." It is not just an opinion. To say so is to forget logic and enter the twilight zone.

Mathematically, the risk of multiple partners does not start "when you are popping partners like Certs." It starts with the second partner of your life, (or the first, if that partner has had another.) If everybody had one partner for life, the epidemic of STD's would be over. Also, there would be a lot less of a whole raft of other problems, like unwanted pregnancies, single parents raising children in poverty and child abuse.

5. If you are having a sexual relationship with someone, how will you feel when you break up? If you do not want to break up, isn't that sort of like wanting a permanent relationship?

Remember when you first fell in love? You wanted to be with that person for ever. That should be a clue that there is an inner desire that the sexual relationship be exclusive (one person) and permanent (forever). Doesn't that sound a lot like those "old fashioned" marriage vows?

Have you ever argued with a partner about being jealous? You were upset because they were with someone else; they said you were being possessive. How did you feel? Cheated? Betrayed? Didn't you get the feeling that the other person had sort of scarred their conscience and was no longer capable of feeling? They didn't seem quite normal, did they? Then, maybe after a couple of partners came and went, you did not feel any more, either.

6. Does it really make sense to you that the people at TAMS care more for you and know more about you than the people who gave years and tears to raise you, your parents?

The staff at TAMS certainly believe that they are doing something important. But they will come and go. Your parents will continue to be your parents no matter what you do, even if you totally mess up your life and bring them constant pain and shame. Even if they kick you out (which can occur as part of what is called "tough love," used to bring a person to their senses) or disown you (which rarely happens), they can never remove you from their hearts.

7. Do you really believe that anybody who talks about self control, chastity, abstinence and virginity is automatically out of date and does not deserve to be listened to?

How can you logically say that the old ways are wrong? Two plus two is still four, even though the idea has been around a long time. Times may be different. They are actually much more dangerous than they were 20 years ago. The need to pursue the safest lifestyle is much greater than it was then.

If something is automatically wrong because it is old, does that mean that what you think is true today (and base you life on) might be declared wrong 10 or 20 years from now?
Just because something is the way it is, does not mean that it is good or right? If that were the case, you would have to accept the killing in Yugoslavia and the starvation in Africa. There must be a higher standard for evaluating what should be.

You may indeed know more about the mechanics of sex than your parents, but they know more about life. They know the heartache that can come when you sacrifice the future for immediate pleasure.

8. Has it ever occurred to you that people tend to justify their own behavior, no matter how bad? Is it easy for an alcoholic to say, "I have a problem?" Does a sexual abuser come right out and admit, "I took advantage of someone weaker?" When you have done something wrong yourself, didn't you try to soften it and justify it? Didn't it make you feel better if you identified other people who did it too? Isn't it a natural tendency to want to say, "What I do is very popular."

When someone tells you something, you need to evaluate whether they have any hidden motives. They may be justifying their own behavior, even if that behavior has produced negative consequences.

In 1847, a doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis showed that if obstetricians would wash their hands between the morgue and the delivery room, not nearly as many babies and mothers would die of infection. He was ridiculed by his colleagues. They would not even give this simple procedure a try. Why? I think it was obviously human nature. It certainly was not good science. They did not want to admit that they had been doing it wrong, especially if it meant that people had been hurt...or killed. So, because of their pride, they kept on doing it wrong.

9. What do you think will be the impression a 7th grader gets from your skits? Will they even consider abstinence until marriage? If one is not sexually active, don't you think he or she will consider themselves to be the last virgin in the city? Don't you think they will suppose that something is wrong with them if they don't hurry up and get with it?

I talked to two doctors after the presentation at MCMC and they both felt that your approach causes many more problems than it solves. Yet, they did not speak up. Why? Peer pressure! If adult physicians cannot stand up, what about students?

10. Do you know that by the time a teen has had 3 different partners, the rate of condom use goes down, from 49.6% with the first partner to 27.4 for those on their third through fifth partners? (DiClemente, Ralph J., et. al., "Determinants of Condom Use Among Junior High School Students in a Minority, Inner-city School District," Pediatrics February 1992, pp 197 - 202.)

Why might this be? You would expect them to become more sophisticated and prepared. I suggest that it is because self esteem goes down and self protective reflexes are replaced by an attitude of not caring any more. Some girls at that point really want a baby, who will stick around and love them, since the guys apparently will not.

Newsweek put it this way in an article on teens with AIDS. Teens do not insist on condoms if the partner resists, "because the desire for love and acceptance overcomes the fear of getting sick."

Doesn't that make you sad? They are talking about kids who want love and acceptance, not sex. There is a difference, you know. Their desires are not fulfilled by what they are doing, and they begin to feel cheap and used. They may even begin to be self destructive.

11. Sex is a indeed powerful force. It is pleasurable, habit forming and bonding between individuals (unless the heart has been scarred). It can be a force for good, or for evil.

Just in case you want to say that good and evil are "old" concepts that are no longer valid, let me give a couple of examples. What about Magic Johnson or Wilt Chamberlain? What about Father Porter? What about Woody Allen, who when asked about his affair with the girl for whom he was a father figure, "What the heart wants it wants."

It is true that the heart may want many things, but some, it should not get. Have you ever been mad enough to want someone dead? Are you glad you did not give your heart its desire at that moment?

I will be bold enough to assert that essentially every honest adult will admit to sexual desires that should not be given action. If someone wants to challenge that, I suspect that they have a very poor memory or very poor judgment.

12. Do you know that the average male homosexual in San Francisco in the mid 1970's had over 500 different sex partners by age 30 to 35? (Bell, Alan P. and Weinberg, Martin S., Homosexualities, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1978). Does that sound like caring relationships?

The opposition to homosexuality by parents and others is not based on the lack of grandchildren it will produce, but by its self destructive nature. It has become homophobic to say anything negative about homosexuality, even things that are true. The Minneapolis Public Schools have refused to state in their AIDS curriculum that 85% of the AIDS in Minnesota is in Gays, even though it is true, because "it would cause people to discriminate."

If the truth is "politically incorrect," how can education take place.

13. How does it improve things to have kids doing things openly instead of behind their parents' backs? What if the behavior itself is destructive? Does a parent really help a teen by saying, "Go ahead and do it upstairs at home so you won't be sneaking around?"

Would the world have been any better if Jeffrey Dahmer's parents allowed him to carry on his gruesome sexual assaults in their home? It is not the sneaking that is the problem. It is the acts themselves.

There seems to be an underlying assumption to much of your ideas that no one should ever ask you to sacrifice, suffer or even delay gratification. The only people worth listening to are those who say, "Do whatever you feel like. Just use the proper technology."

If we really know so much more than they did in the 1970's and you are getting so much better advice, why have the rates of every negative consequence from STD's to teenaged pregnancies gone up instead of down?

14. If this letter upsets you, how will you react? Will you simply and mindlessly defend what you have done? Or will you actually consider the possibility that you may have been wrong?

If you really were wrong, could you be convinced, or would you agree with yourself to your dying breath? If you were convinced, would you have the guts to change and publicly declare it?

These are some of the key issues that education is really about.


Ross S. Olson MD
5512 14th Ave. So.
Minneapolis MN 55417
Phone 612-824-7691

Send comments to me at ross{at}

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