Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Lifesite: Bringing New Meaning to "Balance" and "Accuracy"

While perusing website, Lifesite, "a non-profit Internet service dedicated to the issues of life, culture, and family," I was startled to learn, yet again, that I am not a "normal" woman. Before I begin let me note the mission of Lifesite: "to provide balance and more accurate coverage on culture, life and family matters than is usually given by other media." Great! A website that claims to be balanced and accurate. So that's all settled.

Yet, right off, I learned that the above mission is obviously sarcastic. Observe this Lifesite headline:

"STDS two and a half times More prevalent in lesbians than Normal Women"

First off, why the odd use of capitilization? This isn't a ransom letter.

But more disturbingly, note the misinformation. The article cited a study that concluded, based on a sample size of 370 women, that lesbians are 2.5 times more likely than heterosexual women to have Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) (I've also decided that "vaginosis" ranks right up there with "moist," "frumpy," and "stud-muffin" on my list of least favorite words).

In light of the cited statistics, let me note some additional facts, that counter this alarmist and misleading headline/article.

(a) Although BV is technically listed as an STD by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it is a condition the cause of which is unknown. Rather than definitively being transmitted via sexual behavior, the incidence of BV correlates with having "a new sex partner" or "multiple sex partners." Sex partners of any gender. It also correlates with other non-sexual behaviors, like wearing IUD birth control devices, pregnancy, and smoking. But most importantly, the CDC admits, "it is not clear what role sexual activity plays in the development of BV." Jane Know, a health professional has her own informative critique of this article from a public health standpoint.

(b) The cited study noted that lesbians were more likely than heterosexual women to have this one "STD."


Which makes the headline including the acronym "STDs," in the plural sense misleading a lie.

(c) The cited study, with its small sample size found that 25% of lesbians "carried the disease" compared to 14% of heterosexuals. You wanna know another group of women more likely than other groups of women to "carry the disease"? I'll tell you: African-American women. According to the CDC, 23% of African-American women have it, compared to 6% of Asian women, 9% of White women, and 16% of Hispanic women. Now, does Lifesite wanna make any implications about the sexual behavior of African-American women when compared to the sexual behaviors of women of other races? You know, the way it is making implications about the sexual behaviors of lesbians compared to "Normal Women"?

Thought so.

I bet they wouldn't even open that can of worms. Because African-American women are not, by definition, defined by who they have sex with. Unless, of course, they are also lesbians.

And, for a fun sociological/media experiment, let's replace "lesbian" with "African-American Women" in the headline and see what happens.

(d) So, lesbians may be at greater risk for this condition. Isn't the more important question this: What is the purpose of this article? Information? Or propaganda?

Let me explain where I'm going with this. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while transmission is possible, there have been no confirmed cases of female--to-female sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS in the US. At the same time, the most common way for a woman to receive HIV/AIDS is by having sex with a man.

Now, how many lesbians do you presume read Lifesite (not counting the ones like me who read it for entertainment purposes)? How many heterosexual women read it? Wouldn't a more helpful and informative headline and article to Lifesite's readership be something like this: "HIV/AIDS Much More Prevalent Among Normal Women Than Lesbians"? But yes, I do understand that it doesn't have quite the same "sinister motive" behind it ring to it as the one that implicates lesbians in the transmission of multiple STDs.

Or, perhaps, I am wrong in assigning "sinister motives" to Lifesite. Perhaps the site is venturing into the field of lesbian health education. In which case, I am sure it will correct its errors and dishonest headline. Because if the purpose of the article was to inform, and if the journalist were truly interested in presenting an unbiased, honest, and educational account of the study, she did a piss-poor job of it. In fact, she outright lied in her headline. And starting with that big, bold lie, it's difficult not to question her journalistic credibility.

Oh yeah, which brings me to this:

(e) Lesbians are normal women, journalist Hilary White.

Keeping in mind that one of Lifesite's principles is this,

"Accuracy in content is given high priority. News and information tips from readers are encouraged and validated. Valid corrections are always welcome. Writing and research is of a professional calibre."

I forwarded this article on to a women's health professional who is a specialist in the area of lesbian health. She was all too eager to send a correction.

I'll sit here twiddling my thumbs until Lifesite decides whether her corrections are "valid" ones. In the meantime, I hope for the sake of all women that Ms. White will leave the health education to health professionals whose motives are to inform, rather than distort, health information.

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