Missed Opportunity for C on ABC

Ellen Marshall

Desperate Housewives" is not shy about dealing with sexual relations. And for a second, I thought that they would even take advantage of the opportunity to give condoms the thumbs up when partaking in sexual relations -- especially when the issue comes up with a character who, as the voice over from heaven reminds us, is "two-timing" on his girlfriend.


"Desperate Housewives" is not shy about dealing with sexual relations. And for a second, I thought that they would even take advantage of the opportunity to give condoms the thumbs up when partaking in sexual relations — especially when the issue comes up with a character who, as the voice over from heaven reminds us, is "two-timing" on his girlfriend.

In the show Julie, the 16ish year old, is talking with her boyfriend Austin about needing the pill because condoms are "only 85% effective". When mother Susan overhears, she tells her daughter several reasons why not to have sex: "sex kills" and you "don't want it to burn every time you pee." After Julie lies to her mother about not having sex, using the my-friend-is-having-sex excuse to explain away why she was talking about condoms, the scene ends with Susan saying that condoms alone don't protect you.

The second time the subject comes up, Julie and Austin are trying to persuade his aunt to help them get the pill so they can be responsible. Again, Julie notes condoms are only 85% effective — and Aunt Edie responds "Is that true? I can coast all the way to menopause."

I mean dang, what a missed opportunity to pitch using condoms to prevent against the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV! How great it is to have these young people wanting to be extra careful about protecting against pregnancy, and looking for adult help in doing so. But it wouldn't have taken much to make a mini-pitch for trying to prevent the spread of disease as well.

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Sexually transmitted diseases and infections know few boundaries and there are about 19 million new cases every year in the United States — approximately half of which occur in those aged 15-24. And while probably more parents of 15 year olds watch Desperate Housewives than the 15 year olds, it would have been great to plant the seed in these parents heads… perhaps spurring them on to converse with their own kids about these issues.

Now, I don't think we should rely on prime time television to teach the lessons that should be taught at home AND in our schools. But surely the 20 plus million viewers of Housewives could have benefited with a reminder that condoms help prevent the spread of disease. After all, it does run on ABC — and C is for condoms.

And PS — Condoms are 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy when used consistently and correctly. But to give Julie credit because she just started having sex, the first-year effectiveness rate in preventing pregnancy among typical condom users on average is 86 percent, which includes pregnancies resulting from errors in condom use.

Editor's note: Watch the sneak peak below – or check out the full episode, titled "Not While I'm Around," on the ABC website (the relevant clips are at minutes 7 and 11:13).

News Politics

With College’s Price Tag on the Rise, Democratic Candidates Aim for ‘Debt-Free’ Higher Education

Andrea Grimes

States across the country continue to reduce their public investment in education. With that in mind, Democratic presidential candidates are tackling the question of how to make college affordable (again) for American students.

The price of higher education is on the rise: The cost of attending a public four-year college rose by 39 percent between 2003 and 2013, and states across the country continue to reduce their public investment in education. With that in mind, Democratic presidential candidates are tackling the question of how to make college affordable (again) for American students. The big buzzwords: “debt-free” and “tuition-free.”

Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton released what her campaign is calling a “New College Compact,” while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed his own version of a completely retooled public higher education mechanism in May. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley detailed his own “debt-free” plan in July.

While Clinton’s plan is currently garnering the most buzz, the three most visible Democratic candidates’ ideas are roughly similar: They would all significantly step up the role of the federal government in funneling money to states to assist students with tuition costs at public schools. In some students’ cases, this money could potentially cover tuition entirely—as long as university and college systems meet certain accountability standards.

This, experts say, reflects the downturn in public funding institutions have received over the last few decades, as states funnel taxpayer dollars away from higher education.

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“There’s a recognition that one of the reasons why prices for students have gone up so dramatically over the past ten, 20, 30 years is that states have been disinvesting from higher education systems,” said Rachel Fishman, a policy analyst at New America, a nonprofit think tank that, according to its mission statement, specializes in “impartial analysis.” She said that because of tight recession budgets and mandated spending on items like health care, states have significantly dropped their spending on post-secondary education.

Fishman called the general tenor of the plans a kind of “new federalism for higher education,” with candidates trying to figure out “how to get states to reinvest back into their systems of higher ed.”

Clinton’s proposal, for example, focuses on that reinvestment throughout its major tenets. For states that “halt disinvestment in higher education” and “ramp up that investment over time,” according to Clinton’s proposal, the federal government would issue grants to cover tuition costs based on the enrollment numbers of low- and middle-income students.

It would also continue President Obama’s plan for tuition-free community college; cut student loan interest rates; dedicate money specifically for “modest-endowment private colleges,” especially those which “serve a high percentage of Pell Grant recipients” and which historically serve students of color; implement income-based loan repayment plans across the board; expand Americorps and services provided under the GI Bill; and extend the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Clinton’s plan has an estimated cost of $350 billion over the next decade—parents and families are expected to pick up an income-proportional cost of tuition—while Sanders’ plan has an estimated cost of $750 billion for the same time period and would effectively offer two free years of college to everyone, not just community college students.

While all three candidates’ proposals so far involve refinancing existing student loans, a popular idea that’s garnered bipartisan support, Fishman cautioned that refinancing doesn’t ultimately address the wider problem, which is the overall cost of schooling.

Refinancing, she said, “would certainly benefit some students, but it doesn’t buy a lot” because “the overall savings for the student is not really high.” Lower interest rates would be an advantage mainly, she said, to “those who borrowed the most, and who are most likely to graduate.”

“The question is, ‘What is your policy priority?'” she said. “If it’s degree attainment, we need to concentrate on low-income students and student loan interest rates are not the way to do it. But that’s what the middle class and upper middle class are really into.” Instead, says Fishman, it’s that state-federal partnership that’s key to giving states an incentive to keep tuition low so that low- and middle-income students can succeed.

Ditto for the tax credit, said Fishman—it’s another advantage that largely benefits middle- and upper-income student loan borrowers.

But the cost of tuition isn’t the only concern for America’s growing population of college students.

Gov. O’Malley’s plan also focuses specifically on implementing services like child care that could assist many students in maintaining enrollment and graduating.

That’s important, said Fishman, because the typical college student doesn’t look so much like the traditionally imagined 18-year-old who’s “going to the lovely campus with grass and sitting on the lawn and reading and then going back to the dorms.”

Forty percent of today’s college students are attending community college, she said, “which kind of blows people’s minds.”

“They’re commuting, and around 30 percent of community college students have children,” she said, which means they need more support outside of the classroom. Services like child care and assistance finding benefits like SNAP are essential. Otherwise, said Fishman, “for students, especially low-income students who have lives outside the classroom who are taking care of others and are the breadwinner for the family, it’s just not going to work for them.”

So far, no Republican candidate has proposed anything like the detailed plans from the Democratic side, though that may change once what Fishman called the “noisy field” of the GOP quiets some. But Fishman doesn’t expect conservatives to embrace the debt-free angle.

“I don’t see any of them saying, ‘Let’s do debt-free college,'” said Fishman. “They’re going to have a counterpoint.”

Nevertheless, Fishman said she was encouraged that conversations about solutions to state disinvestment are happening at all.

“If you’d told me a year ago we’d be having this discussion about federal-state partnerships,” she said, “I’d be surprised that so many candidates have come out to focus on this.”

But in any discussion about the rising cost of college and attendant student loans, she said, real solutions will have to address the disinvestment issue, as all three Democratic proposals do.

“The fear students are feeling over loans has everything to do with price they’re facing,” said Fishman. “Until you address the price question, the solutions you come up with for student loan problem are ad hoc.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: New Research on Casual Sex, Rising STI Rates Among Seniors, and Caffeine for Erections

Martha Kempner

This week, a study finds women are just as willing as men to have sex with a stranger, seniors in Arizona face rising rates of sexually transmitted infections, and a few cups of coffee a day may keep erectile dysfunction away.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Women Are Interested in Casual Sex Too

It has long been thought that men would be much more likely to accept an offer of sex from a stranger than women would. As Rebecca Adams of the Huffington Post explains, at least among academics, this belief is based on experiments done in 1978 and 1982 (and published in a 1989 study) in which men and women were asked one of three questions by an attractive stranger: “Would you go out tonight?” “Will you come over to my apartment?” or “Would you got to bed with me?” In those experiments, not one woman said yes to sex, while numerous men did.

Researchers in Germany, however, believe that the design of these experiments was flawed, because it didn’t take into account the real issues those women who said no might have been weighing, such as personal safety, sexual violence, and damage to their “reputations.” So they attempted to create a modern-day study that eliminated some of these risks.

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The researchers gathered 60 heterosexual men and women, telling them they were testing for an online dating site. Participants were shown pictures of people of the opposite gender and told that some of the people wanted to date them and others wanted to have sex with them. Participants were left alone to decide with which of these potential partners they wanted to date or sleep with. To eliminate (or at least diminish) women’s fears for their own safety, participants were told that the first 30 minutes of any in-person encounter would be “supervised.”

The results: exactly the same proportion of men and women opted for sex. It turns out that if you create a safe environment, women really will opt for casual sex.

Rising Rates of STIs Among Arizona’s Seniors

The Arizona Department of Health Services released new statistics this month showing that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise among what some people might see as an unlikely segment of the population—senior citizens. Statewide gonorrhea rates among those older than 55, for example, rose from 4.9 cases per 100,000 in 2012 to 6.8 cases per 100,000 people in 2013. In Maricopa County, gonorrhea rates among older adults more than doubled between 2012 and 2014, from 6.1 cases to 12.7 per 100,000.

Experts believe that a combination of factors are leading to STIs among this age group. People are living longer and staying healthy longer. This generation of older people came of age at a time when sex outside of marriage was acceptable. And men now have access to drugs like Viagra and Cialis, which help them to perform well into their later years. Plus, as sociologist Pepper Schwartz told the Arizona Daily Star, older people are taking advantage of online dating. “The fabulous thing about the Internet is they can find out who’s really out there they might never have run into otherwise,” Schwartz said.

Living longer, finding partners, and having a healthy sex life is all good news, but these seniors do not appear to be practicing safer sex. Jennifer Bass, communications director at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, pointed out that many people this age are coming out of decades-long relationships because of divorce or the death of a spouse. “They’ve been out of the market for quite a while. So they don’t really know about protecting themselves,” she said. “They’re not worried about becoming pregnant, but they might not think about the consequences relating to STIs.”

So maybe it’s time we turn the tables on sex education. The next time you go to visit Grandma and Grandpa in the Arizona desert, have a talk about today’s birds and the bees, and hand them a box of condoms just in case.

Two to Three Cups of Coffee a Day May Keep Erectile Dysfunction Away

A new study should have java lovers and, well, lovers, cheering, because it turns out that caffeine may be good for erections. Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston analyzed data from more than 3,700 men who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They found that men who consumed 85 to 170 milligrams of caffeine a day were 42 percent less likely to report erectile dysfunction (ED), and men who drank 171 to 303 milligrams were 39 percent less likely to report ED, than those who drank under 7 milligrams a day. (A cup of brewed coffee has somewhere between 95 and 200 milligrams of caffeine.)

Caffeine is known to dilate blood vessels, which can increase blood flow—in this case to the penis. So go ahead and pour that second cup. Don’t like coffee? Perhaps a strong pot of tea will do the trick.