From the Publisher
I recently heard the tragic story of a bright, energetic young woman living in Columbus, Ohio. She did very well in her studies in high school and was accepted at an Ivy League school on an athletic scholarship. She was the first one in her family and one of the few in her neighborhood able to go to college. The colleges health exam revealed that she was HIV-positive. Shed had sex with just one person, a young man shed known most of her life.
I thought about this young woman, her anguish and her regret. Thousands of girls like her in high school or college have sexual intercourse without the same consequences. Many do end up pregnant. Many get other diseases which are more widespread and, usually, less lethal than AIDS. They get more time to learn from, or at least survive, their mistakes. Despite advances in the medical treatment of HIV/AIDS, she is unlikely to get the same chance.
Some would argue that sexually transmitted diseases are just dumb germs who dont care who you are and whether this is your first or tenth partner. And theyre right.
While its true this young woman made her own decisions and must live with the consequences, I cant stop thinking that the way our society understands and discusses love and sexuality is a travesty. On the one side are those who think that everything can be solved by leaving boxes of condoms around everywhere, as actress Sharon Stone suggested at Worlds AIDS Day in 1998. On the other side are those who think that just telling young people to just say no is enough.
Beyond advice, warnings or commandments regarding sexual expression, there are larger issues-what is the connection between love and sexuality? The 20th century saw a radical departure from the mainstream of traditional wisdom about this important area of our lives. As we enter the 21st century should we build on 20th century trends? Should we junk our recent past as a failure and start from scratch? An article in Parade magazine mentioned the upcoming 55th wedding anniversary of actor Charlton Heston and his wife, Lydia. Asked if she ever considered divorcing the Ben-Hur star, Mrs. Heston replied, Divorce? Never! Murder, yes.
As a child of divorced parents, I didnt see up close and personal the strength and security expressed in her kidding response. Ive met other couples from the same World War II generation who have the same unquestioning commitment to each other. Its hard not to have enormous respect and even awe at their beautiful faith in their marital relationship. Who wouldnt love to have that kind of respect and friendship after 50 years of being together?
More recent generations are a different story. Last year for a TV show pilot I interviewed couples at a local mall regarding many of these questions about love and relationships. Many couples were insightful. Some were confused. All seemed to be still searching as if there is no clearly successful model to emulate. When asked about the best way to prepare for marriage, many thought that living together was a good idea, even though theres a lot of research showing that living together usually damages the chances of a marriage lasting.
Some people will ask why a book about relationships spends so much time focusing on sexual issues. The reason is that the way we deal with sex impacts not only the man-woman relationship itself and any children born as a consequence of intercourse, but also the way we relate to others and, most of all, to ourselves. Sexuality is powerful and its distortion can have consequences on our own lives and those of others for generations to come. Of course, in the right context its great!
As we go to press, a friend has just emailed me a quote from Sharon Stone (mentioned earlier) about her marriage to Phil Bronstein: I had no idea what marriage could be. Married, loving sex? I dont care how much you might be in love with someone, theres nothing like married, loving sex. There is no way to tell someone who hasnt had that experience what it does to the way you look at the world. (September 1999 issue of Movieline) If Ms. Basic Instinct can have a change of heart, it seems there must be hope for the rest of us . . .
From the Inside Flap
A generation later, though, we found out that free sex isnt free. In fact, it came with a pretty high costan epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including a new oneAIDS. Out-of-wedlock pregnancy rates shot through the roof, rising more than 500%. More than a million children are born each year without fathers. AWOL dads are linked to every major social problem, including higher incidences of: infant mortality, domestic violence, poverty, juvenile crime, violent crime, poor performance in school.
As years passed, we increasingly heard from the sexually liberated not about the joys of a world without rules, but of the emotional costs of uncommitted free sex. A former sorority social director at Indiana University says, I was pretty bitter toward men my senior year. I didnt trust any of them. In a Dear Abby letter, a 20 something woman tells of her passionate one-week fling with a good-looking man at a vacation resort. Two months later, after finding out that she was pregnant, she found out that Mr. Good-looking had no interest in talking with her and hung up before she was able to tell him that she is carrying his child.
If forbidden fruits are no longer forbidden for adults, the teen and even preteen market cant be far behind. But in a society which worships youth, many of the young already feel old: a girl in the ninth grade who had sex with many boys the year before said, I already feel so old.
In a rare moment of candor, a teenage boy confesses After four weeks of having sex as often as I wanted, I was tired of her. I didnt see any point in continuing the relationship. I finally left her, which made me feel even worse, because I could see she was hurting.
The emotional costs of casual, short-term sexual relationships hit sexually active teenage girls hard. They have a six times higher likelihood to attempt suicide than girls who havent had sex. But even without attempted suicide, free sex has left a legacy of worry and anxiety. Teens who used to worry about who likes whom now worry Do I have AIDS? or What do I do now that shes pregnant? Then there is the guilt about using someone you didnt really care that much about, the pain of damaged relationships, the inability to trust. This is freedom?
Many wonder, like the Sheryl Crowe song says, If it makes you feel happy, then it cant be bad; if it makes you feel happy, then why do you look so damn sad?
We learned that sex makes you feel good, but it can kill you, or make you sterile. We hear that to be happy you need to be sexy. Yet, if only losers and nerds are missing out on the fun, why do so many sexually active girls try to take their own lives?
With the advent of AIDS in the 80s and 90s, free sex was replaced with Safe Sex. Government-sponsored TV ads, Magic Johnson and rap groups alike warned us to remember our rubbers. High school health teachers lectured on the need to practice safe(r) sex, and school nurses gave out mint-flavored and no-flavored condoms, depending on whether one wanted oral sex or genital intercourse. But then we found out that safe sex wasnt all that safe. A National Institute of Health study of the effectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of the AIDS virus in San Fransisco was canceled because the studys director says it would be unethical to expose so many to the risk of infection, even with condoms.
A leading advocate and practitioner of safe sex who was not infected when he began propagating the safe sex message, died from AIDS, in his forties. In Los Angeles, a young AIDS educator who could recite the rules of safe sex like a math table became HIV-infected, before the age of 20.
A Johns Hopkins School of Public Health journal reported that among couples in which one partner was already HIV-infected, 1 in 4 of the female sex partners became infected despite using condoms every time they had sex.
If free sex isnt free and Safe Sex isnt all that safe, then whats left? A little noticed, but increasing trend towards committed, monogamous relationships is under way in the U.S., what could be called Relationship Intelligence.
Relationship Intelligence is a search for intimacy without anxiety or guilt, for freedom within the bounds of real trust and commitment. An attractive 30 something TV contributor on MSNBC-TV explains, I used to complain to my mother, who is a liberal, about boyfriends who seemed commitment shy. And she would say, Well, why buy the cow, if the milk is free? Were in the sexual promised land now; the milk is free; people are surfeited with sex. And yet were starved for love... I didnt kiss the man Im dating now, until the seventh date. I didnt have sex with him until the seventh month. He respects and values me a lot more than the men I dated in college, when I was a lot more casual with my body.