The NY Times reported today that anyone working out at a gym needs to be really careful to avoid skin infections such as MRSA, impetigo, jock itch, or athlete’s foot from contact with other people’s skin or from gym equipment. These Gym Transmitted Infections (GTIs- a term I just made up) can be annoying, in the case of athlete’s foot, or life threatening, in the case of MRSA. [As an aside, a great way to avoid jock itch is to put your socks on before your underwear. When you do it the other way round, you can transmit the fungus from your feet to your genitals.]
The article offers some great tips, such as assuming that you are being exposed to skin infections, washing your entire body after working out, and keeping clean clothes in a separate bag from dirty gym clothes to avoid cross-contamination. All of these are excellent risk-reduction methods and while they won’t guarantee 100% safety, they’ll improve your odds.
If you take a look at the NY Times article or the National Athletic Trainers’ Association position paper on the topic, you might not notice the one thing that’s missing. Nowhere in either of them is a single mention of abstinence. Yes, they point out that people who have a skin infection have a responsibility to not expose others and should not go to the gym until a doctor gives you the OK. But they both offer calm, measured, useful advice on how to keep going to the gym while minimizing your risk without once mentioning that the only way to keep yourself 100% safe from a potentially deadly disease is to stay home.
We see the same thing in every other facet of our lives. Driving a car is dangerous, so wear a seatbelt. You can get salmonella from chicken, so cook it thoroughly and wash all of your utensils well. We value driving, eating chicken, or exercising, so rather than panicking and telling people to never do these things, we offer risk-reduction tools.
Of course, choosing to not do these activities for any reason, including wanting to avoid the potential harms, is a perfectly fine choice. And so is doing them, especially if you understand the risks and take steps to do what you can to protect yourself. So why do some people take a different line when it comes to sex? Because of sex-negativity, erotophobia, and sexual shame. Which is ironic because if I had to choose between a life without sex and a life without eating chicken, I’d ask you to pass the tofu.