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Sex On Wednesday | Dude, Your Cousin is so Hot!

by Martha Kempner

I started binging another old show while I was knocked out by whatever dreaded winter ick has befallen our house. The Good Wife has been entertaining but is unlikely to replace Madame Secretary in my heart. Despite a closet full of silk blouses, the ability to walk in high heels, and at least one badass speech per episode, Alicia Florrick can’t be Bess McCord because the series starts with her down on her luck and holding very little power.

Her husband, the former Illinois State’s Attorney, has been caught in an Elliot Spitzer-like sex scandal and gone to jail for conspiracy. She’s had to sell the house, move the kids out of their private school, and trade her stay-at-home mom lifestyle for that of a first-year associate at a law firm (which does make one wonder where the wardrobe came from). She works late, relies on her overbearing mother-in-law for childcare, and doesn’t know what to think about her marriage.

The show premiered in 2009. I would argue that the most outdated thing about it is Julianna Margulies’s skinny eyebrows which are perfectly arched and practically varnished into place, but there are a bunch of little things that remind you it was the Obama era (including actual references to President Obama, oh how I miss him). Everyone has a blackberry or a flip phone, characters seem surprised by standard social media tropes, and cell phone video is still a unique concept.

Another thing that dated the show for me was a conversation between Alicia and her tween daughter. Almost out of nowhere, Grace asks, “Do you think I should get the HPV vaccine?” Alicia responds with a shocked and possibly angry, “What!?”

Grace: “It’s an STI and you can get a shot and …”

Alicia: “I know what it is. Where’s this coming from?”

Zach (the 14-year-old brother): “Molly says we’re hypersexualized because of Dad.”

Alicia: “She what?”

Grace: “Yeah and she says that she got the HPV vaccine, and I could get it too.”

Molly, who is the 20-something babysitter, is promptly fired. Her reaction—coupled with a satisfied glance between siblings—suggests that she was set up, but I still hate the way this conversation went down. No sex educator wants the HPV vaccine and the term “hypersexualized” to ever appear within 500 feet of each other.

This has always been the problem with selling the vaccine and was especially true in those early days (the vaccine had only been on the market for three years when this episode came out). We focused too much on the fact that HPV is an STI and not enough on the fact that the vaccine prevents cancer (five kinds of cancer if we’re being precise). This meant that instead of being excited that they could virtually eliminate the chance of their kids getting cervical cancer, parents like Alicia focused on the sex and bought into fears that offering protection of any kind would make kids promiscuous. This has been disproven about as many times as we’ve disproven the connection between vaccines and autism, but neither sentiment ever seems to go away.

Mrs. Florrick (as she is called at least a dozen times per episode) has an understandably rocky relationship with sex. Her husband’s sex tape has been leaked, and the whole world knows that he likes to suck on toes or that he like his toes sucked. (I don’t remember which, but the show aired on CBS, so the kink had to be super tame.) The whole world also knows that she hasn’t left him even though he slept with a sex worker named Amber Madison. (Not to be confused with Ashley Madison, the website that helps you have affairs.)

While this may have influenced her stricter views of teen sex, I don’t love the way she handles the topic with her kids who are dealing with the fact that everyone knows their dad is a toe sucker (or suckee). She admonishes her son for having a 16-year-old girl in his room and moves the computer into the living room to stop him from watching porn. This isn’t a bad idea for younger teens, but it was executed with anger that could spawn shame rather than with an understanding that sexual curiosity is natural. In a subsequent episode we learn that a strip of condoms in her night table drawer were confiscated from her son who later can’t find them when he needs them.

And then there’s this HPV vaccine discussion which leaves a lot to be desired. Or maybe just a little: “Molly might be right, the HPV vaccine prevents cancer so you probably should get it, but I’d rather you discuss it with me than her.” Or even better: “You got the HPV vaccine last year at your check up with all of your other shots, so you don’t have to worry about that, but what do you think Molly meant by hypersexualized?” I know this is just a TV show, but the writers could have modeled good parent-child communication about sex.

It’s actually Cervical Health Awareness Month so I’ve been talking about HPV, the vaccine, screening, and abnormal pap results a lot. If you want to hear some of it, listen to this conversation that I led for the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. I talk to gynecologist Dr. Karen Tang and actress Alysia Reiner (who was in one Better Things which is one of my very favorite shows) about all things cervix. (Except cervical mucus, sorry Cecily.)

 

STIs Sweep Across Britain

The United States is not alone in facing soaring rates of sexually transmitted infections or lacking the resources to deal with the problem. Experts in England raised alarm this week about both the rising rates of STIs like gonorrhea and syphilis and the inability of local governments to keep up with the demand for services.

According to a report by the Local Government Association (LGA), almost all local areas in the country have seen a rise in the rate of positive tests per 1,000 residents. Rates of gonorrhoea (which they like to spell with that adorable extra o) have tripled in some areas over the last seven years, and countrywide rates are at the highest they’ve been in a century. Similarly, syphilis rates are at a 75-year high.

Local councils that offer sexual health services like STI testing and treatment say demand is up. The LGA says that the number of sexual health consultations offered has grown by a third over the last decade and that testing increased by 13% between 2021 and 2022 alone. The problem is that funding isn’t keeping up. While local councils get public health grants to cover some of the costs of these services, when adjusted for inflation funding has actually gone down by 880 million pounds or over $1.15 billion.

All of this sounds far too familiar to those working in STI prevention, screening, and treatment here in the United States. Cases are up and the money is down. Not only has funding not kept up with inflation, but the June debt ceiling deal also cut money for intervention specialists (historically known as contact tracers).

Chlamydia certainly sounds better with a British accent, but in the end we’re all dealing with the same pesky bacteria that seem to be besting us. (That was a rather English turn of phrase, wouldn’t you say?)

 

Kissing Kousins in Kentucky Just a Typo?

A Kentucky lawmaker is promising that the draft of a bill he filed last week was just a glorified typo and not a legitimate attempt to allow first cousins to get it on.

Representative Nick Wilson ran unopposed for the 82nd District of the Kentucky House after the incumbent, also a Republican, retired. Wilson had been a public defender before that but was better known for winning the 37th season of Survivor and competing again in the all-star 40th season featuring previous winners. (Can we take a minute to discuss the fact that as a society we’re now on season 45 of Survivor? Am I the only one who blames reality TV for the dumbing down of America and the all-too-related rise of Trump?)

On January 16th, Wilson introduced a bill to amend the language in Kentucky’s statute covering incest. The law states that someone is guilty of incest if they engage in sexual relations with a person they know to be “his or her parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, great-grandparent, great-grandchild, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, brother, sister, first cousin, ancestor, or descendent.” According to the Kentucky General Assembly’s website, the amendment would have removed first cousins from this list.

As you can imagine, I had a lot to say about a Republican party that wants to heavily restrict drag shows, bathrooms, and gender-affirming care but sees fit to lift restrictions on family reunions.

I planned to make some excellent jokes about kissing kousins (with a k of course) while being careful to not go too far because incest is likely nonconsensual and is often a form of child abuse which is not at all funny.

I considered doing some research on when first cousins were no longer allowed to marry each other and why. (For those who are curious: Kansas first outlawed it in 1858 and most states followed quickly. Historians are not entirely sure why, but it does not appear to be a fear of kids with genetic diseases as I had been told. It is, however, a uniquely American prohibition.)

And then I planned to end with the most important and most obvious question: How hot is Nick Wilson’s cousin?

But in the days since the story first broke, Wilson has pulled the legislation and swears that this was all an administrative error. His goal, he says, was to amend the bill to include the term sexual contact between family members because as written only intercourse was considered incest. In a statement, Wilson apologized for making the mistake:

“The goal of this bill is to combat a problem of familial and cyclical abuse that transcends generations of Kentuckians. I understand that I made a mistake, but I sincerely hope my mistake doesn’t hurt the chances of the corrected version of the bill. It is a good bill, and I hope it will get a second chance.”

I’m not sure he’s using the word transcends correctly, but it does seem like a noble goal. I’m ready to give him the benefit of the doubt despite his past on Survivor. I mean, who among us hasn’t hit send on the wrong version of a document? Now I almost feel bad about my hot cuz joke. Though I do have one more questions: Was she on the island with him?

 

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