Reckless Drinking (October 17, 2007)

Last week we set sail through “Ukiah After Dark,” on the inland party boat without mentioning that the consequences of a night on the town  can be unhappy ones. 

The more successful late-night navigators don’t seem to realize that they now may be one of the millions of Californians living with a sexually transmitted infection(s), especially if you are between the at-risk ages of 15-24. Mendocino County estimates that last reporting year there were 1,206 new cases of sexually transmitted disease among the population most likely to get them — the teenage-young adult demographic which, in Mendocino County, is calculated to be 13,972.

If you managed to get yourself a case of the clap, it probably happened because you were so drunk you’d lost the ability to say no. You weren’t able to say “I’m not interested in you,” or even, perhaps, “I don’t like you.” What you said was, “Let’s go, baby!”

Even your uncanny ability to pass fake phone numbers to would-be Romeos and Juliets is neutralized by the cunning and baffling power of alcohol. As your decision-making skills become impaired, your consumption of alcohol increases. Your body’s usually reliable natural resistances to having unprotected sex with what under sober circumstances would be an undesirable partner, becomes, under the influence of booze, the most desirable person you’ve ever seen.

According to a recent study by the Public Health Institute, the eight most common types of infections are chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, HPV, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis, and HIV. They are all available in Mendoland. 

Chlamydia is a bacteria that infects the penis, vagina, eye, urethra, or anus of three million Americans, 75% of whom are under the age of 25. Chlamydia can be particularly sneaky because it largely goes undetected, and the longer it does the more at risk the health of its carriers becomes. 75% of women and 50% of men who contract chlamydia don’t have any symptoms but are still carriers; which is especially dangerous for women. Vaginal irritation, abnormal discharge, irregular bleeding, and pain during intercourse are indications for a woman that she has contracted the bug, but because many women don’t experience any symptoms, chlamydia is rapidly spread. If left untreated for too long the bacteria may  infect the cervix, the uterus and eventually lead to the inflammation of the pelvis (PID), as well as create vaginal scarring and even infertility. 

Without proper medical attention health complications increase, making it important to get regular check-ups even if you consider yourself a sexually responsible person. Once detected, chlamydia is treated with antibiotics that eventually purge the bacteria from your body. A medical practitioner will give you a prescription at a local pharmacy and advise you not to have sex until you have taken the full schedule of antibiotics and that medical practitioner  concludes that you are 100% chlamydia-free. Preventive measures during penile-vaginal intercourse are straightforward: make sure the male person involved wears a condom. 

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is actually more than a hundred related viruses that may cause extremely sensitive warts on the genitals of both men and women. It’s a kind of super syph but treatable. Other strains create unhealthy cell changes that may lead to cancer in the cervix. Considering the severity of this condition, it’s unfortunate that it’s the most common. 20 million Americans carry some form of this virus, and every year five a half million more are infected. The incredibly contagious HPV is transmitted through touch; it’s that easy. Sexual intercourse doesn’t have to take place, so ordinary protective measures won’t protect you against this disease. HPV is not always visible either so most carriers are unaware that they are in fact hosting the virus. Affected areas that are visible are usually red or pink and create an incessant itching sensation. The level of discomfort of course varies depending on the location of the virus. Other strains create raised bumps that may resemble a cauliflower.

Treating HPV is altogether different than the treatment options available for carriers of chlamydia. Bacterias go away with proper care, viruses don’t. Fortunately, there is an HPV vaccine that suppresses the virus called Gardasil. Unfortunately, HPV may seemingly be gone forever only to reappear when your immune system is suppressed. Laser surgery, acid treatments, and cryotherapy are some possibilities to control more serious outbreaks of the virus. Creams and other applications are available for smaller irritations. Once contracted, the best preventive measure is practicing better health. Recreational drinking and smoking are highly discouraged as they weaken the immune system and allow the virus to resurface. Healthful eating, plenty of sleep, and regular exercise discourage outbreaks. 

The fiscal effects are just as ugly. In 2000 the economic impact of the 9.1 million cases of persons playing rubbsies with an infected partner was $6.5 billion in California alone, not including indirect costs such as loss of work productivity. That’s an alarming number considering that an enormous number of cases go undetected and therefore remain undocumented. Dr. Petra Jerman, author of the Institute’s recent study, believes that unreported cases are of greatest concern. “The estimated number of new cases and their associated costs illustrate that the STD [or STI] epidemic among California’s youth remains largely hidden.” In other words, STI’s are spreading so rapidly without detection that people in the health and medical field are unable to fully calculate the epidemic’s economic impact. 

But who really cares about the state’s economy when your crotch is itching and yellow pus is dripping from your love stick? The problem is complex, but the solution can be simple: get a means of protection to the at-risk group, i.e., bars need to provide free condoms in their bathrooms. Oregon, for example, sells condoms, some of which are advertised as “glowing in the dark” in service station bathrooms and in the restrooms of many of its bars, but it rains a lot in Oregon and maybe a lot of men up there simply like to wave it around to alleviate the gloom of their winter love lives. 

Next time you walk into a bar keep in mind that the majority of people there have some from of STI — they’re dangerously clapped up. Young people between the ages of 15-24 are having unprotected sex and transmitting infections to lots of other young people. Knocking the un off unprotected sex is most realistically accomplished through condom accessibility at the right times and health education all the time. The discrete placement of condoms in the hot hands of party-goers (for starters) greatly increases the chances that the young lust bunnies will use them. 

Let’s face it, encouraging safe sex and responsible drinking doesn’t work when it’s 1:30 in the morning and your target audience is drunk. But providing condoms would have an enormous impact on decreasing the spread of STI’s.

I challenge every bar in the County to give away free condoms. It’s important for individuals to be mindful of the dangers of unprotected sex, but proprietors of bars and clubs have an additional responsibility to promote safe sex by providing a means for their customers to exercise informed decisions. They’re profiting nicely from the behavior their businesses facilitate. Providing condoms in a dispensary located in the bathrooms of both genders would positively effect the STI epidemic. I’m sure rubbers would go fast at places like the Forest and Perkins Street clubs when most of the patrons are thoroughly drunk and aren’t about wrap-up the evening without a random boff. 

Alcohol and Other Drug prevention programs, and sex education instruction, may work in theory, but not after six drinks and two hours at a bar or club with the beast on the barstool next door looking like Eros incarnate. 

Refraining from sex may be easy in a mountain town in northeastern Afghanistan where the inhabitants are devout Muslims and any kind of sex except one man on top of one woman will get you killed, but Ukiah at 2am is not a mosque.

 Be mindful of who you are with, what they’re wearing and what their bodies may be invisibly carrying. Otherwise, you’re likely to wake up with more than just a hangover.

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