Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Election Edition

Martha Kempner

Our not-so-favorite moments involving some of the candidates for the nation's highest offices include Donald Trump's dating antics and Mike Pence waxing ignorant about sexually transmitted infections. And then there was that Pennsylvania man who worried about what would happen if Hillary Clinton got her period while in the Oval Office.

It’s been hard to keep up with politicians’ reproductive- and sexual-health blunders during this election season, so we at This Week in Sex thought we’d share the highlights—or, more precisely, the low lights.

For Trump, Dating is War and He Was a “Brave Soldier”

Donald Trump, who is now the Republican presidential nominee, has only recently become a candidate for public office. But as a businessman and reality television star, he’s been in the media for decades. After the release of the 2005 hot mic audio in which he bragged to Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush that he could kiss and grab women without asking, many of his interviews have been unearthed and scrutinized. And it’s not surprising that some of the most outrageous comments have come from The Howard Stern Radio Show (such as when Trump agreed that his daughter Ivanka was a “piece of ass”).

In two Howard Stern interviews—from 1993 and 1997—Trump referred to dating as his own personal Vietnam War (Trump avoided the draft for the Vietnam War due to college deferments and a “foot thing”). In 1993, he said on air: “You know, if you’re young, and in this era, and if you have any guilt about not having gone to Vietnam, we have our own Vietnam; it’s called the dating game. Dating is like being in Vietnam. You’re the equivalent of a soldier going over to Vietnam.”

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A few years later, he reiterated these sentiments when asked about how he’d avoided sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during his dating years: “It’s amazing, I can’t even believe it. I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world; it is a dangerous world out there. It’s like Vietnam, sort of. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”

There’s a lot to dissect here. In Trump’s view, his dating experiences are akin to mass conflict. These comments make light of the broad-based trauma and effects of war, and they are as offensive to Vietnam veterans who actually put themselves in harm’s way as they are to women.

But they also perpetuate a rape culture in which women are an opponent to conquer.

Mr. Trump’s description of dating as a war is actually quite telling. If you view women as an adversary to be bested, their permission and even their desire is arguably unnecessary.

In generally, the view of a war between the sexes is predicated on the idea that women don’t really want sex but agree to have it if the men are rich enough, handsome enough, quick enough, or otherwise wear down their defenses. It teaches young men that a woman’s default position will be to say “no,” and that a man’s ultimate job is to find a way around it. Though it may sound like a stretch, it’s exactly this kind of thinking that leads to young men forcing themselves on women who say “no,” drugging women to make them easier conquests, or even having sex with unconscious women who are unable to refuse.

A healthier view of dating would describe it as a quest for mutual pleasure, whether that takes the form of dinner out, an evening at the opera, or a really good one-night stand. In this view, women and men are equal, have similar goals (be they casual sex or a long-term relationship), and get the same amount of say over what is and isn’t going to happen next.

Donald Trump told us in the last debate that nobody has more respect for women than he does. But his own accounts of what he thinks and how he acts tell a totally different story.

Mike Pence Once Said that Condoms Aren’t Effective Against STIs    

If Trump did indeed have as much sex as he suggests and made it through the ’80s and ’90s without an STI, he was likely relying heavily on condoms.

But don’t tell that to his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who told CNN in 2002 that condoms do not protect anyone from STIs and that abstinence is the only way to go.

Pence was part of a panel debating comments made by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, who told young people at an MTV forum that they should protect themselves from HIV and other STIs by using condoms. Asked for his opinion on these remarks by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Pence—who was then a Republican member of Congress from Indiana—said: “I think it was—given the enormous stature that Colin Powell rightly has, not only in America but in the world community—it was a sad day …. The truth is that Colin Powell had an opportunity here to reaffirm this president’s commitment to abstinence as the best choice for our young people, and he chose not to do that in the first instance.”

He went on to decry Powell’s advice as “liberal” and “too modern” and to suggest that condoms actually don’t work: “The other part is that, frankly, condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases, and in that sense, Wolf, this was—the secretary of state may be inadvertently misleading millions of young people and endangering lives.”

Later in the interview, he explained: “Well, I just simply believe the only truly safe sex, Wolf, as the president believes, is no sex.”

Pence cited a 2001 study by the National Institutes of Health, which has often been used by critics of condoms to suggest the devices are ineffective. However, that’s not what the report concluded, and more recent research has found even better results. STIs are spread differently. Condoms are more effective in preventing those spread through bodily fluids—including HIV, gonorrhea, and chlamydia—than those spread by skin-to-skin contact, such as HPV, because infected skin may be in places other than genitalia and thus not covered by condoms. Still, condoms reduce the risk of many STIs and are an important strategy for anyone on the dating scene.

It’s Hard to Be Presidential If You Have a Period, Said Concerned Citizen

It’s not just politicians who have misinformed and outdated views on sexual health. Carl Unger, a concerned citizen in Montgomery, Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to his local newspaper defending those who want to “take our country back” against charges of sexism. Unger thinks fears about Hillary Clinton’s health are justified. He writes: “What if that time of the month comes and she’s sick at the same time?”

With this comment, Mr. Unger seems to echo centuries-old concerns that women are not capable or rational during their periods. These views of women as ruled (and ruined) by their menstrual cycles hark back to the days in which doctors believed women suffered from the uniquely female disorder known as hysteria (interestingly, one of the treatments for hysteria was being induced to orgasm by your doctor). We now know that menstruation is just a fact of life and does not cause illness or mental health issues. Nor does it stop people who have periods from being successful.

But if Unger is still worried, perhaps this will put his mind at ease: Hillary Clinton, who turned 69 this week, has likely not had a period in more than a decade. Women do not actually menstruate for their wholes lives. Menstruation begins during puberty in the teen or preteen years and ends when a woman enters menopause (the average age of menopause in this country is 51). Before reading Unger’s letter, I would have thought this goes without saying. But just in case he or anyone else is worried about our potential next president needing to take maternity leave while in office, Secretary Clinton is no longer fertile.

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