The Woods Scandal: Deafening Silence on the Health Risks of Infidelity

I’ve watched and read a lot of news about Tiger
Woods’ admitted infidelity
while married and the potential impact that may
have on his career, the sport of golf and his marriage.  It’s not as if I’ve sought out
information about Tiger Woods and his infidelity, but it’s almost impossible to
avoid it with the wall to wall coverage being lavished on the scandal.  When I read
one news item about allegations that Woods didn’t wear a condom while being
my natural inclination was to cringe and move on.  But that speculation stuck with me as I
absorbed subsequent coverage and I began to notice that the issue of the health
risks associated with infidelity was absent without leave from most of the
mainstream coverage.

I was reminded of an incident that occurred when I was
teaching a women’s health class at a local shelter for teen mothers.  My students and I were discussing
health relationships and one student mentioned that she thought her boyfriend
was cheating on her.  She related
feeling anger toward him and the woman she suspected was involved and she
indicated that she planned to confront both of them about her suspicions. Several students offered advice on how
she should go about those confrontations and a spirited conversation erupted
over who had wronged whom and what the best course of revenge was.  I listened for a while and then jumped
in with a question.

“Have you been tested?”

The students went silent and the student who suspected her
boyfriend was cheating asked, “Tested for what?  I’m not pregnant.”

I replied that she suspected her sexual partner was having
sex outside of their relationship and that she should ask him if her suspicions
were accurate but that she should also get tested for sexually transmitted
infections (STIs) particularly if she and her partner do not use condoms for
protection against STIs.  I
followed that up with the suggestion that she get tested even if they used

The room was silent. 
Several students stared at each other as if the thought had never
occurred to them.  I went on to say
that infidelity causes a lot of emotional pain and heartache, but it also
carries with it some serious health risks. After a moment, the students began to ask questions and I
gave them answers and resources.  I
left the shelter wondering why discussions of infidelity so often fail to
address the health risks associated with sexual activity.

Fast forward to the present and the current Tiger Woods
infidelity scandal.  Not a lot has
changed.  Tiger Woods is not on the
record about whether or not he used condoms when he cheated on his wife.  Woods is on the record that he was
indeed unfaithful while married and participated in infidelities.  But even though there hasn’t been
confirmation from Tiger Woods of whether or not he had unprotected sex while
being unfaithful, I can’t help but wonder why most of the mainstream media
coverage of the scandal has failed to include a message about the health risks
of infidelity?

I went online to research the issue of infidelity and came
across an
article on the Discovery Health website that offers some clues
.  The article, When
Your Partner Cheats: Healing From Infidelity
, offers advice on how both
parties in a relationship should handle themselves once an infidelity has been
confirmed.  Experts quoted in the
article suggest honesty, relationship therapy, patience and forgiveness.  But, sans a suggestion that couples ask
their physicians for therapy recommendations, the piece fails to mention that
couples may want to discuss the health risks associated with infidelity or to
offer resources for couples who want to get tested for STIs.

I find that failure to mention the
health risks of infidelity
negligent given the fact that infidelities
involve sex and anyone can get an STI by having intimate sexual contact with a
person who already has the infection. When discussing infidelities, whether
they involve a celebrity or not, people should be reminded that a person can
not tell if someone is infected because many STIs have no symptoms and they
should add that STIs may still be transmitted even if there are no symptoms.

STIs are spread during vaginal, anal, or oral sex or during
genital touching, so reports discussing infidelity should also point out that
it is possible to get some STIs without having intercourse.

In short, news coverage regarding infidelity needs to include more than just speculation
over whether a couple will divorce or how many alleged partners are
involved.  Coverage of a celebrity couple’s
infidelity scandal is more than just a race for ratings – it is an opportunity to
educate the public about the realities every couple faces when confronted with
infidelity.  Because beyond the
potential of the relationship ending and the emotional trauma due to the
destruction of trust there are the possible health risks associated with sexual
contact and/or intercourse.

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  • chris-wells

    Nice post Pamela. You reminded me of some research I read several years ago regarding contraceptive use in extramarital sexual relationships. I think it suggested the idea that someone cheating on their spouse is less likely to use a condom or other barrier method with their lover. I think they reasoned this might be because it adds to the excitement and thrill of the infidelity, or that they believe their lover to be "perfect" (i.e. that they’re physically incapable of having an STI). Either way, it increases the importance of getting tested if you suspect or discover your partner or spouse is cheating.
    As an aside, do you have any theories as to why the U.S. media isn’t debating this side of the story? It doesn’t strike me as any less interesting or relevant to the rest of the scandal.

  • harry834

    thinking of contraception/sti protection activates the "resposibility" sector of the brain which doesn’t mesh well with the "infidelity" side of the brain. Cognitive dissonance.

  • pamela-merritt

    I think that the lack of coverage has something to do with the tradition of reporting sti’s as single young people’s concern and reporting infidelity as only an emotional issue.  When the Woods scandal broke, most of the coverage was about the legal options both parties had and the emotional damage cheating can cause.  And I think that has a lot to do with how these issues have been covered in the past.  But it is long past time we challenged those traditions that promote an anti-knowledge approach to sexual health, whether a relationship is going great, in trouble or over.


    Thanks for reading!

  • ch

    We pick and pick at teens for their lack of responsibility about sex but you know what? I don’t see adults taking responsibility either.


    Remember the study the Guttmacher Institute released in June 2009? They reported that there are approximately 19 million cases of STI transmission yearly for the last decade. Since half of those transmissions happen to those 15-24, let’s say roughly 13 million cases happen to ADULTS only, those 18 and over. This demonstrates adult responsibility? In fact, the adult population has a higher transmission rate of STIs than the teen population. And I still believe those numbers are low because those are the people that went to the doctor, many many people don’t.   The report also said that 65 million Americans have a viral STI (herpes, hepatitis A and B) which are incurable.  If we cannot get adults to be sexually responsible, how can we expect teens to be? We pretend that marriage or even committed relationships means you’ll never have an unwanted pregnancy, you’ll never contract nor be at risk for any STIs and it’s a fairy tale. And while we all wander around happy in our little fairy tale, STIs are beginning to reach epidemic proportions. We need to get honest about sex.  We need to encourage all sexually active people to get regularly screened, we need to encourage proper contraceptive use amongst all sexually active people to prevent unwanted and mistimed pregnancies, we need to ensure that medically accurate information regarding sex is available and we need to encourage people to be sexually responsible not only for themselves but for their partners as well.

  • pamela-merritt



    Programs, friends and family need to promote sexual literacy throughout a person’s life.  That involves constant learning and regular health screenings.  Teens don’t have a lock on sti’s anymore than married adults are kryptonite to them…all people need to get screened, sexually active people need to get screened regularly and everyone needs to encourage everyone they know to do the same.


    Knowledge is power.

  • harry834

    I once saw an episode of the Soup where Joel McHale, the host, showed a clip of a male soap actor telling guys to get one thing for their girlfriends that will show them you love her: a pap spear. Joel’s audience (or mechancal audience) groaned, and then they cut to Joel: "or maybe you can get her something that doesn’t say, ‘I think there’s something wrong with your vagina’?"

    So, is Joel right on boyfriend-girlfriend propriety, or wrong on health? Should I take his advice?


  • kate-ranieri

    I laud the author’s article. And while I know that the corporate mainstream media’s primary job is profit-making, their use of the airwaves should demand some responsibility to the American public. The airwaves are essentially “rented out” to media moguls thanks to the Telecommunications Act (no thanks to Pres. Clinton) with little demand for being a watchdog of corporations, military and government OR with little costs to media. So it’s no wonder that there is no serious focus on STIs with reports of infidelity, no serious focus on domestic violence when Rihanna & Chris Brown tangle, no serious focus on alcoholism and public drunkeness during the Super Bowl commercials, or no serious focus on child abuse or poverty or drug abuse when a single parent seriously harms or abandons a child. Media is all about entertainment, sizzle, sex and selling. And who in the Federal Communications is going to make a stink about this? Who will take on the media conglomerates?

  • edward-craig

    Why STI rather than the more common STD?
    It’s not that anyone notes the difference between an infection and a disease.