What Charlie Sheen Can Teach Us About Safe Sex

Telling the world you are HIV positive can’t be easy. Especially if you’re Charlie Sheen. That’s why it wasn’t surprising to me that Sheen seemed extremely nervous during his interview a couple days ago with Matt Lauer on Today.

I deeply respect Sheen’s immense courage to come out and talk about HIV, his health and how it is impacting his life because by doing so I bet he helped so many men and women living with the virus. But, equally important, Sheen coming out could prevent countless people from contracting HIV. How? Because Sheen just scared the crap out of everyone, and maybe people who don’t practice safe sex will start doing so. I can only hope.

Sometimes I think people who are older and divorced don’t really think STDs affect their demographic and so they don’t use condoms. But, here is my philosophy.

During a very stressful time in a person’s life (which includes going through a divorce) he or she might do things they wouldn’t normally do. I’m not speaking for everyone, but most men and women I know (including myself) have done stupid things they wouldn’t have otherwise done if they weren’t under the stress that comes with being newly separated. It’s a really crazy, sad, depressing, scary time, leaving people susceptible to bad choices as a result of trying to soothe anxiety and numb pain. Bad choices can include excessive drinking, drugs, gambling, one-night stands, sexual promiscuity and having sex with prostitutes.

Let’s say there is a really, really sweet, suburban divorced man over 40, a great dad who was once a committed family man until his wife told him she wanted a divorce. The guy’s buddies take him to Vegas and he has a one-night stand. He is very drunk and doesn’t use a condom. This guy could realize it was a really stupid mistake and never do it again, but guess what? A year later, he starts not feeling well (like what Charlie Sheen said happened to him), gets tested and finds out he has HIV. Maybe since that time, he is now dating a divorced, suburban woman and they are in love, and exclusively dating and sleeping together without protection. Now, the woman may have contracted HIV. Isn’t that a scary scenario?

So, I think the lesson we can learn from Sheen is that having unprotected sex, even with one person can have a really bad outcome, which is why I stress using condoms until you know you are exclusive, and until both people have been tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The only thing that bothered me about Sheen’s interview was when Lauer asked him if that whole set of “Winning!” interviews was the result of his learning he was HIV positive (which happened a few years ago). Sheen said no, but I don’t believe him. This was his chance to say, “Yes, I was really messed up because when I found out I had HIV, I went into a drug and alcohol rampage to try to soothe the shock and pain and all the other devastating feelings you have.”

Sheen, who has been married and divorced twice, I believe, said in the interview that he was no longer doing drugs, but that he was “still drinking a little.” In my opinion, Sheen’s drug and alcohol history are a worse problem than having HIV. And until he looks in the mirror and realizes he needs treatment, he can only help the world so much as far as being a spokesperson for HIV. (Not that I’m saying that’s what he wants to be.) But, Sheen has a real chance here to do something really great for humanity, which is spread the word about HIV, talk about it, educate people and reduce the stigma for this horrible virus. He can’t do that if he’s drinking and doing drugs.

I do want to end this on a good note, by saying that what Sheen did Tuesday morning was really, really significant and important, and for that reason I admire him. I bet it was a huge relief on his part, and who knows? Maybe his coming out will lead to the guts he needs to conquer drugs and alcohol. But to my readers, I hope he helped you realize the importance of safe sex and how one slip up can have dire effects on your life. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of sex and enjoying yourself — especially after you’ve been through the heartache of divorce. Just be smart about it.

Jackie Pilossoph is the author of her blog, Divorced Girl Smiling, and the comedic divorce novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase. She also writes feature stories, along with the weekly dating and relationships column, Love Essentially” for Chicago Tribune Media Group local publications. Pilossoph lives in Chicago. Oh, and she’s divorced.

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