“Junk science” that could save lives

Conservatives wrongly claim taxpayers funded a study of gay men's penis size -- and miss the survey's importance

Topics: Sex, Love and Sex,

"Junk science" that could save lives (Credit: Richard Lathulerie 04141047557)

The Traditional Values Coalition’s mission this week is to alert poor, beleaguered American taxpayers that they paid scientists to measure gay men’s junk. You will surely be shocked to hear that this news has sparked a firestorm among staunch conservatives; the only problem is that none of it’s true. Not only was the research paid for without government funds, but the study’s findings could help save lives, and taxpayers’ money.

Bloggers were quick to churn out the tabloid headlines that just write themselves: “Your Tax Dollars Going to Study Gay Men’s Penis Size.” Right-wing news sources like Fox and the Daily Caller got in on this orgy of outrage too. Naturally, the Daily Mail was not far behind.

But contrary to all of these reports, the NIH did not pay researchers to measure gay men’s penis size. The data for the study — “The Association Between Penis Size and Sexual Health Among Men Who Have Sex with Men” — were “collected as part of a larger survey of the sexual health of gay men,” says researcher Jeffrey Parsons, a psychology professor at Hunter College. That survey was funded by the college’s Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies and Training — not the NIH. What’s more, they didn’t even measure men’s penises: “We simply asked men to self-report if they felt their penis was above average, average, or below average,” he tells me.

Presumably critics thought (or at least figured they could get away with arguing) that the NIH paid to measure gay men’s members because one of the researchers, Christian Grov, was being funded by a post-doctoral government grant. But he assisted only in analyzing the data, which had already been collected. “Clearly conservative groups like the Traditional Values Coalition have a vested interest in creating scandal around scientific research related to gay men,” says Parsons.



Not only did the hand-wringers get the funding wrong, they also misreported the actual aim and outcome of the study. Christian Grov, one of the researchers, and an assistant professor at Brooklyn College, says they found that men who reported having above-average size penises were more likely to have sexually transmitted infections that are “passed via skin-to-skin contact,” like genital warts and herpes. But this increased risk was not a result of lesser condom use. The team speculates that “these men were experiencing improper condom fit (not being able to roll the condom all the way down), condom breakage, or irritation (caused by wearing a condom that may be too tight),” says Grov.

This has crucial implications for disease prevention and research. “At the moment, the male latex condom is the best barrier to prevent transmitting HIV and STIs,” he explains. “Our findings suggest that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to condom distribution may not meet the needs of men who fall outside the range of the ‘typical’ condom.” All of this is to say: It would have been perfectly appropriate if taxpayers had funded the study. “No area of sexual research should be ‘off the table for study’ if it is done with the best interests of public health and stopping the spread of disease,” says co-researcher David Bimbi.

For those who feel unpersuaded by the public health argument simply because they believe gay sex doesn’t have anything to do with them, two things: 1) Um, straight folks also get STIs and HIV, and 2) Preventive research like this could save taxpayers lots of money. “As men who have sex with men account for half of the cases of HIV in the United States, any research that can lower transmission rates in this group will in fact save the government money in HIV/AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, which sadly are not well funded as it is,” Bimbi says. “The old saying is true: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’”

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Rose Jay via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Labrador Retriever

    These guys are happy because their little brains literally can't grasp the concept of global warming.

    Hysteria via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    German Shepherd

    This momma is happy to bring her little guy into the world, because she doesn't know that one day they'll both be dead.

    Christian Mueller via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Golden Retriever

    I bet these guys wouldn't be having so much fun if they knew the sun was going to explode one day.

    WilleeCole Photography via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Bulldog

    This dude thinks he's tough, but only because nobody ever told him about ISIS.

    Soloviova Liudmyla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Beagle

    This little lady is dreaming about her next meal-- not Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

    Labrador Photo Video via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Yorkshire Terrier

    This trusting yorkie has never even heard the name "Bernie Madoff."

    Pavla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Poodle

    She is smiling so widely because she is too stupid to understand what the Holocaust was.

    Aneta Pics via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Boxer

    Sure, frolic now, man. One day you're going to be euthanized and so is everyone you love.

    Dezi via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    French Bulldog

    He's on a casual afternoon stroll because he is unfamiliar with the concept of eternity.

    Jagodka via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Rottweiler

    Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be this care-free? But we can't because we are basically all indirectly responsible for slavery.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>