Thursday, May 26, 2005

Sen. Tom Coburn yesterday continued a tradition he started when he was a member of the House of Representatives — treating Capitol Hill staffers to lunch and a slide show about the ravages of sexual disease.

‘This is going to be pretty graphic, and I don’t want anybody to be surprised,’ the Oklahoma Republican said as he began the noon presentation at the Capitol.

But either times have changed or Hill staffers are more jaded because no one gasped or ran for the exits, unlike previous years.

Mr. Coburn, a family physician, later said he doesn’t do the slide show for shock value but sees it as a way to get medical facts to young people.

‘They don’t get enough information,’ he said. Most new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occur among people younger than 25, and if people know the science, they can modify their behavior, he said.

The event yesterday was billed as a Star Wars-style ‘Revenge of the STDs.’ Fliers pictured a Yoda figure crying, ‘Stop the STDs, we must,’ and Darth Vader warning, ‘Never underestimate the power of the STDs.’ Star Wars music greeted the guests.

However, the slide show evoked less emotion than a previous show. The crowd was quiet and the mostly polite inquiries allowed the freshman senator to elaborate on topics such as spermicides and ectopic pregnancy.

In contrast, at a 1997 slide show, the audience groaned at certain images and some female staffers fled. Also, the questions were feistier, with participants challenging the idea of lifelong monogamy, especially for homosexuals.

Yesterday, as he has done before, Mr. Coburn advised adults to refrain from having multiple sexual partners and engaging in unsafe sexual activity.

‘What would happen in this country if the young women would say no [to sex] until they’re 20?’ he asked. ‘Disease would go down, the pregnancy rate for unwed mothers would go down, the social costs for the next two generations would go down.’

Mr. Coburn also encouraged sexually active youth to use condoms.

‘Condoms make a difference,’ he said, cataloging the effectiveness of condoms in protecting against fluid-borne STDs such as HIV/AIDS and gonorrhea.

The problem is that condoms don’t offer much prevention against several other diseases, such as herpes, human papillomavirus and syphilis, that are transmitted by skin contact, he said.

Proponents of comprehensive sex education later applauded Mr. Coburn’s advice on condoms but objected to his use of STD ‘scare tactics’ and questionable data.

‘Everyone in that room should consider getting a second opinion,’ said Bill Smith, public policy director for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

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