Your statistics don’t prove what you say they do

Oftentimes the issue is not that people disagree about what the problem is, but that we disagree about how to solve it. People often act like proving a certain problem exists is equivalent to proving we should respond to it in a particular way, when there are many other possibilities and their choice of solution is very much affected by their own beliefs and biases.

I just stumbled across someone arguing that high rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among gay men show that… I’m not 100% sure what he’s arguing for. He seems to have a positive view of conversion therapy? Maybe he just thinks gay men should be celibate, I’m not sure.

My point is.

We can agree that the problem exists! (Though you might want to use data more recent than 2009, and you might want to admit that there’s disagreement about some of the points you used. Yes, the FDA has decided that forbidding all men who’ve had sex with men from donating blood is the only safe thing to do, but other countries have different policies and various US organizations keep asking the FDA to reconsider.)

But you are making a choice about how to address this problem.

There are all sorts of angles we could take on STI infection as a problem.

  • Promote condom use:
    • make sure condoms are inexpensive and easy to get
    • change negative opinions that might make people avoid condoms even though they’re available, e.g. that it’s embarrassing to buy them, that they’re too uncomfortable to be worth using
    • improve condoms so that they’re less likely to break, more comfortable to use, etc.
  • Promote regular STI testing:
    • make it affordable and easy to find, again
    • change public opinion that getting tested is scary, shameful, etc.
    • improve STI testing so it’s more accurate, faster, less physically unpleasant
  • For HIV specifically, promote awareness of PEP/PrEP– medications that prevent someone who’s been exposed to the virus from contracting HIV
  • Promote caution about having sex:
    • change negative opinions people may have about asking their partners about STIs, e.g. that it’s rude or embarrassing
    • inform people about how STIs are transmitted and what actions put them at risk, with a focus on stopping people from assuming e.g. that oral sex is safe
  • Or take the opposite tack and promote openness on the part of people who have STIs, rather than fear on the part of people who don’t. This all fits in with making STI testing less scary- when people see a positive test result as a horrible, life-ruining thing, they’re sometimes too scared to get tested at all, and end up with a higher risk of getting an STI and passing it to someone else.
    • change negative opinions about having even careful, protected sex with people with STIs, so that people with STIs aren’t afraid to disclose them and their partners don’t react badly
    • inform people on the specifics of how STIs are transmitted with a focus on reassuring people that certain things are safe, e.g. that you won’t get HIV just from being in the same room with someone who has it
    • inform people about condoms and treatments for STIs with a focus on reassuring people that they’re effective
    • promote research into more and better treatments and methods for preventing transmission
  • If you think anyone is likely to listen, you can even try to promote monogamy, or promote having fewer partners.

If you hold up “Men who have sex with men have increased rates of HIV and many other STIs” and ignore all the above possibilities to instead say “Therefore, sex between men is wrong,” you are making a choice about where to lay the blame for this problem, and it’s a very revealing one. CDC statistics about HIV are not sufficient to lead you to that conclusion. You are choosing to write off the entire idea of sexual relationships between men, because you’re against them for other reasons.

Your choice shows that you don’t see STIs as simply a public health concern like measles or the flu, but as a punishment for having (the wrong kind of) sex. Your choice shows that you see sex (perhaps just between men, or sex in general) not as a normal or natural thing that’s part of many people’s lives, but as something suspect and dangerous that people should be willing to avoid entirely. If you think “Gay men should stop having sex” is better and more reasonable than “We should stop the spread of infectious diseases”– something modern medicine has actually had a fair amount of success with– you have something against gay men! It’s that simple! You are choosing to assume that sex between men can’t be safe from STIs, because you have other reasons for believing it’s never going to be safe or right in general. STI statistics are not why you’re advocating this. Don’t be disingenuous. They just let you hide behind concern instead of admitting to bias, or to using religious reasoning that you know many people don’t believe.

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