You may be shocked at what goes on behind the doors of campus health care centers.
The report, thousands of years old, of a shepherd boy, youngest of eight brothers, beating all odds to slay a vile, tormenting giant still fascinates us. In the past weeks I've wept during the movie Facing the Giants, cheered during the reading of Jonathan Rogers Bark of the Bog Owl and prayed to the tune of Casting Crowns' The Voice of Truth." All three revisit the ancient tale of David and Goliath.
Maybe it's our own human frailty that compels us to cheer for the underdog — maybe our dislike of injustice, the repellant nature of being held under someone's thumb, our memories of being bullied on the school playground that so connects us to David's plight. Whatever the reason, whatever the venue, we love to see David pick up a smooth stone and hurl it at the unmistakable, detestable Goliath. And so I've rooted from start to finish for Anonymous, M.D., while reading Unprotected.
In it the author, who agreed to have her identity revealed on the Dr. Laura Show following the book's publication, tells of a workplace where she's had to swallow her common sense and tow the politically correct line or risk censure and possible firing. Day after day psychiatrist Miriam Grossman sees patients at UCLA's Student Psychological Services who report eating disorders, depression, grief. She's learned to ask about their diet, exercise and sleep schedules; to probe for any history of addiction or abuse. What she must not mention, however, is sex. No matter how tawdry, immoral or unsafe their sexual habits, if she can't applaud them, she must at least never hint that her thoughts about their behaviors are anything but neutral. She writes:
"We ask about childhood abuse, but not last week's hookups. We want to know how many cigarettes and coffees she has each day, but not how many abortions are in her past. We consider the stress caused by parental expectations and rising tuition, but neglect the anguish of herpes, the hazards of promiscuity, and the looming fertility issues for women who always put career first. We strive to combat suicide, but shun discussion of God and ultimate meaning."
Like David, she can no longer endure the taunts of the giant. Unprotected is her sling. The stories within, her stones.
It's one thing to argue that sex outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage goes against our created design, violating the natural laws of God. In a church setting, such arguments are compelling and go a long way toward keeping us on the straight and narrow. But Unprotected goes beyond church walls and into a setting that is perhaps the most sexually active — if not hyperactive — environment in mainstream America: the college campus.
You might be surprised to learn that even there, doctors and health center counselors believe in abstinence. On her campus they beat the drum of restraint on many fronts. She returns to that theme throughout the book, repeatedly quoting from health center brochures that extol the virtues of healthy living. She and her colleagues are supposed to discourage lots of bad behaviors. "Cardiologists hound patients about fatty diets and insufficient exercise," she writes. "Pediatricians encourage healthy snacks, helmets, and discussion of drugs and alcohol. Everyone condemns smoking and tanning beds. Aren't health-care professionals supposed to address their patients' lifestyles?"
Campus health workers ask about everything that could have anything to do with a students' stated condition. Everything, that is, but anything having to do with sex. Do you eat too many calories, sleep too few hours, smoke, drink, or party too hard? Those things are bad, they say. It's time to change your behaviors — for your own good! But if you're having sex with multiple partners or ending a pregnancy with an abortion, that's your own business. Your privacy in such matters, it seems, is paramount. Even if those behaviors could mean the early end of your life or fertility; your right to do whatever you think best trumps reality.
Oh they believe in abstinence. But never where sex is concerned. They act as if the sex drive is the strongest force on the planet. Nothing, it seems to them, could withstand the surge of hormones coursing through the veins of a healthy young person. But letting those urges lead where they will, it turns out, can quickly undo your health.
What's the impact of all this misinformation on public health? The author tells us, "Forty years ago we had two sexually transmitted infections to worry about — now we have twenty-five." And the race is on to normalize them. She reveals how the resources that are available for students facing STDs trash "standards and expect the behavior of the lowest common denominator."
The evidence in Unprotected is overwhelming: Latex notwithstanding, when it comes to illicit sex, there's no such thing as protection. The very health professionals students look to for advice are steering them toward behaviors that are known to harm, while belittling those that can actually help.
Amazingly, for all her talk of consequences — STDs, post-abortion stress, depression, death by AIDS, infertility — Dr. Grossman doesn't moralize. Though she does reveal a religious commitment of some kind (she doesn't make her faith affiliation clear), this is not a religious book. It is unarguably a medical book. And the strength of her arguments flows not from her own moral convictions, though she does have them, but from her experience as a medical doctor.
The stories and stats in Unprotected are disturbing, shocking, ubiquitous — and so it's that much more necessary that they be told. By introducing us to her patients, Dr. Grossman covers such important themes as the American Psychological Association's disregard for and disbelief in God, the misinformation about HIV/AIDS, the absence of family in "family planning," the denial of distinctions between the sexes, the glorification of career at the expense of fertility and the overlooked trauma of abortion.
She makes her most powerful points by simple comparison. The weirdo mom who wants another baby compared to the normal woman becoming a man; the student who's tested, forcibly if necessary, for TB compared with the gay male student who has "unprotected" sex with countless partners but remains free to get an HIV test, or not. And then there's the counseling the university provided for students following hurricane Katrina. These weren't students whose houses were destroyed or whose families survived the storm, but co-eds who, upon viewing news coverage of the disaster, experienced "'stress reactions': shock, anxiety, irritability, insomnia ..." compared with women, and men, who survive abortion. She writes:
"It's not politically correct to consider abortion to be more than a medical procedure: the removal of 'tissue' or of 'uterine contents.' If some people hurt following abortion, if women can get PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and men mourn silently for years, then that means sometimes it's bad, like war or hurricanes. And if you are in the mental health profession and want to keep your job, you'd better think long and hard before you say that."
Why should you read Unprotected? Because it's refreshingly honest. Because it's non-politicized, straightforward, useful advice from a medical doctor about health risks. Because it's full of information you didn't get, and misinformation you likely did, back in college. Because even if you went to a Christian school, where these subjects are largely avoided, you've likely absorbed these lies simply by osmosis. Our culture, especially the media, seems bent on perpetuating the myths that begin in a typical campus health center.
(Note: This book isn't without a cringe factor. If you've somehow managed to avoid all these venues of misinformation and already know — and live like — God's plan for sex really is the best, then you might want to skip this book for all its graphic, though not gratuitous, descriptions of the problem.)
I can only imagine the soul searching and courage it took to write this book. I hope Dr. Grossman receives as much support and thanks as she does scorn and shame for risking her own job to tell the truth. With the evidence Grossman presents, there's no reason to take the bullying of the radical, anything-goes sex agenda another day. And I hope, for her patients' sake, and for all our sake, this David and Goliath story will end with a slain giant.
Copyright 2007 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.