Today we will hear from Tiger Woods, the latest powerful public personality to be felled by a sex scandal. He will read a statement outlining his future plans and no doubt will explain how words fail to describe his disappointment in himself by letting down his family and fans. And with that he will join Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards in the flagellation-by-press-conference routine that has become a tradition in American life.
Each has paid a high price for his sexual misdeeds in power, prestige, wealth, and respect, not to mention the devastation it has caused to wives and children. Clearly, engaging in an extramarital affair, in some cases, several, is insanely risky. Each had to know the self-destruction that would occur if their truths were revealed.
But in the realm of recklessness let's consider one other aspect: they were all allegedly having unprotected sex.
One of Tiger Woods' alleged mistresses now claims she was impregnated by him twice; one resulting in miscarriage and the other abortion, and that during the three years they were involved the sex "was never protected." News outlets reported that Spitzer didn't want to use protection with his prostitutes. And then there's Rielle Hunter carrying around baby John Edwards.
So, here's one more confounding question. Why didn't they use a condom? That thin layer of latex may have been, as far as John Edwards knew at the time, protecting his presidential chances too. Theoretically, John, Eliot and Tiger would have enjoyed their secret lives forever. So then, why risk lasting evidence, like in the form of a baby? Not to mention the probability of disease. Sure, if you're going to risk it all why not go for it, right? Was it that adolescent reasoning that, by not using a condom, the sex wasn't so much a premeditated act but one of irrepressible lust and therefore not quite their responsibility? In Spitzer's case, the laborious financial machinations that preceded his liaison suggest otherwise, but still for someone so meticulous in his planning what about disease prevention? (Is this the conversation he anticipated: Honey, the herpes is from a toilet seat, really.) Or imagine the conversation that would follow a worse disease. According to a June 2007 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, as a result of male infidelity, marital sex represents their single greatest risk for HIV infection for wives.
And these are politicians who supported sex education, the careful explanation not only of anatomy and reproductive biology but of how to get the job done safely. What about being a role model? The day Spitzer resigned he was scheduled to speak at a contraception conference. In the 2007 YouTube/CNN Presidential Debate, Edwards spoke at length about how he has lectured his children about the need to protect themselves.
When one of Bill Clinton's personal scandals collided with his political life in the person of girlfriend Gennifer Flowers, Howard Stern sent his ace reporter to the Flowers press conference. It was the seemingly inept Stuttering John, who stuttered his way through perhaps the most probing and overlooked question: "Did Governor Clinton wear a condom?" It wasn't taken seriously, the other reporters seemed to be annoyed by the line of questioning, but really isn't it one of the most important questions to ask at a press conference announcing a sex scandal?
Tiger's poor choices won't alter the future of the republic, for sure. But there've been few more powerful role models. No doubt Tiger's immense athletic talent was solely responsible for his contracts with Nike and Accenture, but his squeaky clean, happily married, doting-father-of-two-very-young-children image was part of his allure too.
For athletes and for politicians cheating is as common as teenage sex, and that's the point. Sleep around if you want. That's between you and your family. But when you involve our families --vby being a role model to or lecturing our kids about safe sex--we want protection.
This piece originally appeared on RHRealityCheck.org