My article on HIV infection rates has the Internet in a tizzy, with people calling me a racist, homophobic, irresponsible man. The attacks are unsurprising, as my haters lack necessary training in critical thinking.
Namely, they do not understand risk assessment.
This comes as no surprise as a Google search for “how to think about risk” yields articles about the need to diversify stocks and bonds rather than a sensible discussion of about the inherently risky nature of life.
If you want to play dangerously, you must understand risk.
Life is risk. We all know this intuitively, yet our cognitive biases blind us to real risk v. imagined risk. Let’s look at an often cited-example.
After 9/11 Americans were terrified of flying due to the availability bias, “a phenomenon (which can result in a cognitive bias) in which people base their prediction of the frequency of an event or the proportion within a population based on how easily an example can be brought to mindOur brains cause us to fear what we most-recently seen.”
In other words, our lizard brains see a terrorist attack and becomes afraid of wherever we last saw the terrorists. We stop thinking about probability. We behave in what Dan Ariely calls a “predictably irrational” way.
Post 9/11 we moved away from a low-probability risk towards an activity that is actually dangerous:
The official death toll for the September 11 attacks stands at 2,996, including the 19 hijackers, but research suggests that there is a further, indirect toll as a result of behavioural changes induced by fear.
In the months after the 2001 terror attacks, passenger miles on the main US airlines fell by between 12% and 20%, while road use jumped. The change is widely believed to have been caused by concerned passengers opting to drive rather than fly.
Travelling long distances by car is more dangerous than travelling the same distance by plane.
We humans do not do a good job of evaluating risk. We tend to assess risk based on news headlines and other propaganda.
The narrative causes us to poorly assess risk.
Never let the truth upset the narrative. The narrative is the story the media and government (which are one in the same these days) is pushing. To understand the truth, understand what the government or journalist wants to be true and why they want it to be true.
- What the government wants to be true: America faces a terrorist attack.
- Why the government wants this to be true: Big money in war.
- What the media wants to be true: HIV is a disease everyone can get.
- Why the media wants this to be true: The narrative, which holds that biological differences do not exist.
Just as I had no fear of being the victim of a terrorist attack, I also had no fear of contracting HIV.
That’s partially true. Until I rejected the narrative by looking at data, I was horrified of HIV. Now, I simply have zero fear of HIV.
What is the risk of contracting HIV for a straight man?
In a post about HIV I observed, “Straight men do not contract HIV.” I did not push a narrative. I did not share what I heard on some news channel or learned from a nit-wit teacher.
Rather, I analyzed data from the United States Center for Disease Control. When you look at CDC data, you notice something.
Where are all of the straight white male HIV infections?
Relying on CDC data is considered racist and homophobic, as morons believe a scientific judgment is a moral one. Zealots are simply unable to look at scientific questions with a scientific lens and moral questions with a moral lens.
Yet I made no value judgments about gay men, black men, or any other men.
I noted white straight men did not make the CDC’s cut and explored why that might be.
After first lying about my position, those who wish to push a narrative switched tactics. They are now saying there are approximately 500 reported cases of white heterosexual men contracting HIV each year.
This might be true, although I doubt it.
At most there are 500 new cases a year of straight white men contracting HIV.
Yet even that tiny number of newly-infected straight men presumes the men self-reported their sexual status accurately. There’s no way to know whether:
- Men were on the down low.
- Men were using IV drugs.
- Men were sleeping with prostitutes, who often to use IV drugs.
If you were a straight man who contracted HIV from homosexual sex, would you tell your doctor? Not likely.
Would Forrest Hayes, the white-bread Google executive worth millions who shot up heroin with a hooker, have admitted that’s how he got HIV (if he had tested positive rather than overdosed)?
“I got HIV from heterosexual sex, not from shooting H and having sex with hookers. I swear!”
Details magazine (certainly not a publication one would consider homophobic!) reported:
Only 6 percent of men with AIDS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, contracted the virus from straight sex. And even that figure doesn’t hold up to a closer look. Several studies now suggest that most men who claim they got the virus this way are lying. They got it from sex with other men or sharing needles with addicts. Those studies also show that many women listed in the straight-sex category are either IV-drug users themselves or have likely contracted AIDS from sex with an IV drug user
Let’s assume those 500 new cases actually involve heterosexual men. That’s a bogus assumption, but let’s run with it.
How does the risk stack up?
HIV risk compared to other risks.
A straight man has a 1-in-5,000,000 chance of contracting HIV from sex with a woman (source) if he does not use a condom:
But the truth is that HIV isn’t nearly as easy to spread through heterosexual sex as many people think. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, men almost never get HIV from women. A healthy man who has unprotected sex with a non drug-using woman has a one in 5 million chance of getting HIV. If he wears a condom, the odds drop to one in 50 million. And though it’s easier for men to infect women, the odds that an HIV-positive man will transmit the virus to a woman through sex are less than one in 1,000.
Read that again and again. A man has a 1-in-5,000,000 chance of contracting HIV without a condom, and a 1-in-50,000,000 chance of contracting HIV if he wears a condom.
How tiny is that risk?
We weren’t taught how to do this in school, as that would allow us to question the narrative. To assess the risk, look at the National Safety Council’s Injury Fact Chart.
(Note: These are lifetime odds where as the one-in-five-million is a single event rather than lifetime odds. But this is the best comparison we can make.)
What Are the Odds of Dying From…
|Exposure to Excessive Natural Heat||1:8,321|
|Air and Space Transport Incidents||1:8,357|
|Exposure to Electric Current, Radiation, Temperature and Pressure||1:12,174|
|Contact with Sharp Objects||1:37,565|
|Contact with Heat and Hot Substances||1:62,608|
|Contact with Hornets, Wasps and Bees||1:75,852|
|Bitten or Struck by a Dog||1:103,798|
|Struck by Lightning||1:136,011|
(For more examples of low-probability events, check out “11 things more likely to happen than winning the Powerball jackpot.”)
You are far more likely to die from bee stings than you are to contract HIV from heterosexual sex.
That’s how marginal the risk of contracting HIV from heterosexual sex is.
Indeed, even if one partner is infected, HIV is only transmitted 1-in-900 times. If you knowingly have sex with someone infected with HIV, you have a 0.0011 chance of contracting HIV.
Some may say that 1-in-5,000,000 is still too much to risk. Fair enough, wear a condom and your odds are 1-in-50,000,000.
Then ask yourself if you run around being afraid of dying from bee stings? I highly doubt it.
If you’re not more afraid of dying from bee stings than you are of contracting HIV, you are being irrational. Period.
Your fear is based on a narrative.
The narrative refuses to accept biological realities. HIV transmission is highly unlikely to occur during heterosexual intercourse.
This is a scientific fact, not a moral judgment. Even the ultra-PC NPR had to concede this point:
HIV is sexist.
A woman is twice as likely to catch the virus from an infected partner in a heterosexual relationship than a man is.
Is it unfair gays are punished more by AIDs than straight people? As a libertine, I feel some sympathy for the gays. Yes, it sucks they are more likely to die from enjoying the pleasures of sex.
Such the nature of the world. Life, as you all should know by now, is not fair.
Does this mean you should be reckless?
I do not make moral judgments. I state the facts and advise men to live as they will. I am not a preacher man.
Yet how many of you (I am raising my own hand) have had a panic attack over nothing?
If you are a straight man who has heterosexual sex, you will not get HIV unless you also die of bee stings, get struck by lightning, and win the lottery.
That’s a joke, of course, as each of those events would be independent of one another.
And it’s also true that having heterosexual sex with a woman suffering a herpes outbreak changes the risk assessment a bit. The same is true with having sex with prostitutes or IV drug users.
But honestly, there is no reason in the world a heterosexual man who has a normal sex life needs to fret over HIV. Remember these stats:
- A healthy man who has unprotected sex with a non drug-using woman has a one in 5 million chance of getting HIV.
- If he wears a condom, the odds drop to one in 50 million.
Can it happen? Yes, you might also get hit by an asteroid or win the lottery.
Focus on risks that matter. That is risk assessment.
To learn more about how to think rationally, check out:
- The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (Amazon)
- The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making (Amazon)
- Thinking Fast and Slow (Amazon)
Think my numbers are off? Post a comment!
Even if you find some data more favorable to the narrative’s position, you’ll learn the risk of a straight man contracting HIV is trivially, laughably small.