Roundups Sexual Health

Sexual Health Roundup: California Teens Spared Harmful Therapy, Syphilis Spikes in Houston, NY Men Like Big Condoms

Martha Kempner

California Gov. Jerry Brown calls reparative therapy quackery as he signs a law banning the practice of changing teens' sexual orientation; syphilis rates spike in Houston; and Big-Apple guys choose big condoms. 

California Bans Reparative Therapy for Teenagers

The ex-gay movement took yet another hit this week as California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law banning the practice of reparative therapy for teenagers in his state. Brown said that he hoped this new law, which prohibits licensed mental-health-care providers from attempting to change the sexual orientation of anyone under age 18, will relegate the practice to the “dustbin of quackery.” 

This law comes after a difficult summer for supporters of the practice known as “reparative therapy.” In May, a psychiatrist apologized for his role in advancing this therapy, “also known as conversion therapy,” which seeks to “cure” homosexuality. In the 1970s, Dr. Robert Spitzer was part of the American Psychiatric Association panel that ruled that homosexuality was not a mental disorder as it had been categorized until that point. Yet after being part of one of the biggest advances in gay rights, he was also part of one of its biggest setbacks. In 2001, he published a peer-reviewed study, claiming reparative therapy worked. This year, Spitzer admitted that the study was flawed because it simply asked individuals if they felt that their sexual orientation had changed. This meant that they could be lying, not just to him but to themselves. He apologized to the gay community and to “any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing reparative therapy… .”

In August, the president of Exodus International, an umbrella organization for ex-gay ministries, which was founded in 1976 to promote reparative therapy, announced that there is no cure for homosexuality. He went on to say that “… reparative therapy offered false hopes to gays and could even be harmful.” Though the organization will no longer support therapies designed to change sexual orientation, it still does not support same-sex relationships or LGBT rights. In fact, its president continues to say that “any sexual expression outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage is sinful according to the Bible.”  

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Still, he now believes that reparative therapy is harmful because it makes people feel “sinful based on their natural inclinations.” Ironically, Gov. Brown agrees, though he uses different words. After he signed the law, Brown tweeted: “This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine.”  

This echoes the findings of a report by the American Psychiatric Association, which concluded that:

“reparative therapy poses a great risk, including increasing the likelihood or severity of depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior for those undergoing therapy. Therapists’ alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already felt by patients.”     

A number of groups that continue to believe in the practice are outraged and have threatened to sue over the new law. A spokesman for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) argued that they do “competent therapy” that works:

“For them to have a bill that says, ‘No, we can’t even talk about these issues, we can’t do anything to help these children resolve their homosexual feelings and maximize their heterosexual potential’ — that’s the height of political and therapeutic irresponsibility.”

NARTH says it will file a lawsuit against the new rule. Another group, the Pacific Justice Institute, also plans to file suit, claiming the law violates first-amendment rights. But regardless of the outcomes, reparative therapy for young people may not be completely gone from California. The law applies only to licensed health-care providers, and many who provide this kind of “treatment” are not licensed. Still, the law should give well-meaning parents pause before considering this practice. 

Syphilis Cases Double in Houston, Texas

A report this week from the Houston Department of Health and Human Services shows that the number of new cases of syphilis during the first eight months of 2012 is nearly double that of the same time period last year. This reverses a downward trend that began in 2008. Most of the new cases are among men who have sex with men. 

Lupita Thornton, program manager for sexually transmitted diseases for the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, called the new numbers alarming and said:

“We hope it’s alarming to the Houston-area community so people who know they’re at risk get tested.” 

Though there is no one reason for the spike, she does point to use of social networking to arrange sexual encounters. Another spokesperson for the department said that the spike might be a result of increased surveillance efforts. For example, the city sponsored hip-hop concerts that included free STD screenings. 

In 1999, the rates of syphilis were so low nationally that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a syphilis elimination program. Unfortunately, this was not successful, and the rates have crept back up. While on a national level there has been a 1.6 percent decline since 2009, rates have spiked in a number of cities recently. For example, San Antonio, Texas, announced plans a few weeks ago to follow pregnant women who test positive for syphilis because of a rise in the number of babies born with the disease. 

In order to stem this newest spike, Houston officials plan to increase detection programs and expand the schedule of the department’s mobile HIV and STD clinic.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be cured without long-term health impacts if caught early.    

The Big Men of the Big Apple Get a New Condom Choice

The New York State Department of Health is replenishing its supply of condoms by purchasing 720,000 Trojan condoms, including 440 cases of Magnums. The department, which runs the New York State Condom Program, dispenses about 12 million male condoms across the state each year, more than half of which are distributed in New York City. 

As many of us remember, the city distributes its own condoms that are manufactured by Lifestyles and packaged with a city-specific design inspired by the subway map. The condom was first distributed in 2007, but people complained that they were not large enough for many men in the city. Two years later the city began offering another product made by Durex. New York City gives out condoms through 3,900 participating organizations—including health clinics, advocacy groups, stores, and bars. Groups that distribute these condoms can also ask the state for additional condoms. 

And the state’s Magnums—which are 15 percent larger than standard condoms—are among the most popular. Mark Hammer of the New York State Department of Health said:

“Offering a wider selection of condoms with varying attributes can help encourage more people to use them. Some gangs, for example, take issue with the color of certain condoms, he noted. And everything from texture to packaging can play a role.”

The bottom line is, whether the men of the Big Apple really need the big condom or are just attracted to the shiny gold package, it’s good that they’re protecting themselves. 

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