Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sex outside of marriage is risky.

Herpes Labialis, from Wikipedia. I didn't put a super nasty picture of an STD because I seriously didn't want to stare at it while typing. I think this does the trick though.

The Navy would prefer that you not ride a motorcycle. Despite being an economical choice for single Sailors (both in actual cost and maintenance costs), motorcyles are frowned upon. Since the Navy can't outright ban motorcycles, if you choose to purchase one, you must attend a variety of courses, register it on base, always wear a helmet and a slew of road rash gear, and expect to be lectured in some fashion every year about your choice. If you get in an accident, expect to have your record scrubbed to ensure you actually attended all required courses, even if the car driver was clearly at fault.

The Navy would prefer that you not drink. Despite research showing that moderate drinking is actually better for you than not drinking, the Navy would be most happy if you just never cracked open a cold one. In order to punish your free choice, the Navy subjects you to a mindless number of safety briefs and invasive "what are you doing this weekend?" questions from your wardroom and chiefs mess.

The first six words of this article, however, are rarely spoken in the Navy. The Navy will go to great lengths to squash sexual assault (and good on them!), but consensual sex appears to be off limits. This despite the fact that sex outside of a steady, monogamous relationship:

- Raises your risk for sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea, which could have long lasting effects

- Always has a chance for pregnancy, which has financial and legal impacts on a Sailor (and has possible health consequences should the woman have an abortion)

- Can have legal consequences should you commit adultery or have sex with a minor (whether you knew she was 14 or not!)

- Creates an emotional bond (due to chemical releases) that, should you break and reestablish this bond multiple times, makes long term committment harder in the future

Despite all of these potential bad things happening that would seriously impact your Sailor, there is an unwritten rule that you can't actually say "Sex outside of marriage is risky." When it does come up in polite conversation, I normally hear two arguments against it. The first is that Sailors will "do it anyway," and the second is that you can't regulate morality.

The first argument is a sham. People break rules all the time, but it doesn't negate the reason for the rules. Despite all of our safety regulations, we still get OPREPs where someone didn't follow an instruction and gets injured or damages equipment. We also get a myriad of SITREPs about people driving drunk and breaking laws. Just because Sailors will still choose to engage in risky behavior doesn't mean that suddenly we can't say it's risky behavior. Their actions don't lower the risk...if anything, they make it worse!

The second argument is different because on its face it is true. The Navy is NOT a religious or moral institution. Contrary to the Sailor's Creed, we don't always defend freedom and democracy around the world. If that was true, we wouldn't have placed a large naval base in Bahrain (a kingdom) or defend another kingdom (Saudi Arabia) from a country that elects its leader (Iran, although the elections can be called into question). The Navy cannot, and doesn't act, as a moral institution.

Instead, the Navy operates as a rules based organization. By only requiring people to follow the rules, the Navy allows people of all different backgrounds and moral beliefs to work together. For example, the Navy doesn't require you to agree or disagree that homosexuality is right. They simply require you to process marriage licenses for a Page 2, and you can't boot someone for being gay. You can be a Mormon and not drink in the Navy, or be of other persuasions and drink profusely, so long as you don't drive or otherwise get yourself in trouble. A rules based organization is powerful because it can bring a diversity of people to attack problems.

Is it so hard to say that engaging in risky sexual behavior could impact your career? That condoms won't protect you from everything? We crusade against smoking because it is risky, despite the fact that some of our best Sailors smoke. Yes, there are people who smoke like a chimney and live to be 100, but they are rare because smoking has health consequences. In the same way, you can choose to sleep around and engage in risky sexual activity, but it entails a lot of risk and at some point will probably hurt you. It doesn't mean you can't be successful, but it will certainly make it harder.

I don't want sex outside of marriage to be illegal. I don't think our court system needs to be prosecuting consensual sex cases when it should focus on prosecuting the actual criminals we have. I also don't think the Navy needs to step in and try to make more rules on sexual behavior. As a bureaucracy, we don't have a good track record on rules anyway.

Instead, I'd like the Navy to stop pretending that risky sex isn't risky. Put the message about risk out there. Let people see what could happen, and then let them make their own choices. We do that with tobacco, alcohol and motorcycles, knowing full well some Sailors will make poor choices. At least those Sailors are fully informed about their choices and have the most knowledge available. By not talking about sex, as leaders we remove ourselves from the conversation and allow (often wrong) gouge to take its place.

Let's at least have Sailors make informed choices about sex.

The views expressed in this post are the authors alone and in no way reflect the official views of the United States Navy, Department of Defense or any of its subordinate commands.