The Woods Scandal: Deafening Silence on the Health Risks of Infidelity

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The Woods Scandal: Deafening Silence on the Health Risks of Infidelity

Pamela Merritt

Coverage of a celebrity couple's infidelity scandal is more than just a race for ratings – it is an opportunity to educate the public about the health risks and realities every couple faces when confronted with infidelity.

I’ve watched and read a lot of news about Tiger
Woods’ admitted infidelity
while married and the potential impact that may
have on his career, the sport of golf and his marriage.  It’s not as if I’ve sought out
information about Tiger Woods and his infidelity, but it’s almost impossible to
avoid it with the wall to wall coverage being lavished on the scandal.  When I read
one news item about allegations that Woods didn’t wear a condom while being
my natural inclination was to cringe and move on.  But that speculation stuck with me as I
absorbed subsequent coverage and I began to notice that the issue of the health
risks associated with infidelity was absent without leave from most of the
mainstream coverage.

I was reminded of an incident that occurred when I was
teaching a women’s health class at a local shelter for teen mothers.  My students and I were discussing
health relationships and one student mentioned that she thought her boyfriend
was cheating on her.  She related
feeling anger toward him and the woman she suspected was involved and she
indicated that she planned to confront both of them about her suspicions. Several students offered advice on how
she should go about those confrontations and a spirited conversation erupted
over who had wronged whom and what the best course of revenge was.  I listened for a while and then jumped
in with a question.

“Have you been tested?”

The students went silent and the student who suspected her
boyfriend was cheating asked, “Tested for what?  I’m not pregnant.”

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I replied that she suspected her sexual partner was having
sex outside of their relationship and that she should ask him if her suspicions
were accurate but that she should also get tested for sexually transmitted
infections (STIs) particularly if she and her partner do not use condoms for
protection against STIs.  I
followed that up with the suggestion that she get tested even if they used

The room was silent. 
Several students stared at each other as if the thought had never
occurred to them.  I went on to say
that infidelity causes a lot of emotional pain and heartache, but it also
carries with it some serious health risks. After a moment, the students began to ask questions and I
gave them answers and resources.  I
left the shelter wondering why discussions of infidelity so often fail to
address the health risks associated with sexual activity.

Fast forward to the present and the current Tiger Woods
infidelity scandal.  Not a lot has
changed.  Tiger Woods is not on the
record about whether or not he used condoms when he cheated on his wife.  Woods is on the record that he was
indeed unfaithful while married and participated in infidelities.  But even though there hasn’t been
confirmation from Tiger Woods of whether or not he had unprotected sex while
being unfaithful, I can’t help but wonder why most of the mainstream media
coverage of the scandal has failed to include a message about the health risks
of infidelity?

I went online to research the issue of infidelity and came
across an
article on the Discovery Health website that offers some clues
.  The article, When
Your Partner Cheats: Healing From Infidelity
, offers advice on how both
parties in a relationship should handle themselves once an infidelity has been
confirmed.  Experts quoted in the
article suggest honesty, relationship therapy, patience and forgiveness.  But, sans a suggestion that couples ask
their physicians for therapy recommendations, the piece fails to mention that
couples may want to discuss the health risks associated with infidelity or to
offer resources for couples who want to get tested for STIs.

I find that failure to mention the
health risks of infidelity
negligent given the fact that infidelities
involve sex and anyone can get an STI by having intimate sexual contact with a
person who already has the infection. When discussing infidelities, whether
they involve a celebrity or not, people should be reminded that a person can
not tell if someone is infected because many STIs have no symptoms and they
should add that STIs may still be transmitted even if there are no symptoms.

STIs are spread during vaginal, anal, or oral sex or during
genital touching, so reports discussing infidelity should also point out that
it is possible to get some STIs without having intercourse.

In short, news coverage regarding infidelity needs to include more than just speculation
over whether a couple will divorce or how many alleged partners are
involved.  Coverage of a celebrity couple’s
infidelity scandal is more than just a race for ratings – it is an opportunity to
educate the public about the realities every couple faces when confronted with
infidelity.  Because beyond the
potential of the relationship ending and the emotional trauma due to the
destruction of trust there are the possible health risks associated with sexual
contact and/or intercourse.