Thanks everyone! I asked for more subscribers and I got a whole bunch. I would love to keep the momentum going so I won’t close the tee-shirt raffle until Friday. Anyone who forwards this newsletter to three friends or posts it to their social media (and tells me they did it in an email to email@example.com) will be entered to win a “that’s not how it f**king works” tee-shirt. I’ll let the winners know next week. In the meantime, enjoy some more stories about politicians (both the clueless and the well-intentioned) and one about a couple that would have been better off with condoms than car insurance.
California Outlaws Stealthing
California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation last week making stealthing—or the nonconsensual removal of a condom during sex—a civil offense. Though it might seem obvious that anything containing the words nonconsensual and sex would already be illegal, California is actually the first state to explicitly say so.
Stealthing has gotten a lot of media attention (including in the second issue of this newsletter) especially when a British man was sentenced to four years in prison after admitting to poking holes in a condom without his partner’s knowledge in the hopes that the condom would break and they could have a “more intimate experience.” It’s not clear how many people are victims of stealthing—which would also include slipping a condom off mid-coitus—but we do know that they have a hard time proving any law was actually broken.
In a 2017 article for a law journal, Alexandra Brodsky, now a civil rights lawyer and author of the new book Sexual Justice, described the act as rape adjacent and suggested that we need to find new legal recourses for victims. The article inspired California Assembly member Cristina Garcia to introduce legislation that was ultimately passed without opposition.
The law doesn’t make stealthing a crime but allows victims to sue the person who did this to them directly in civil court. Brodsky thinks this is the right tactic. She told NPR: “Civil litigation keeps decision-making in the hands of survivors, which can be particularly important in the wake of sexual violence…." Brodsky went on to say:
There are a lot of survivors who don't want to see the person who hurt them in prison but really could use some help rebuilding their lives, paying for mental health care, paying off medical debt, being able to take some time off from work in order to heal.
As one friend (and subscriber) pointed out, stealthing is a very bad thing with a very cool name which is not uncommon when it comes to our “boys will be boys” attitudes toward sex. Hopefully, laws like this—which add financial implications to the moral ones that should have already been clear—will remind anyone considering poking holes in or pulling off a condom that there’s nothing cool about anything containing the words nonconsensual and sex.
Beach Parties Need Masks and Condoms
Another politician is having trouble with his mask/condom analogies. This time it’s Brazil’s Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga who, like other officials in that country, is anxious to return to business as usual. It was recently announced that Rio will hold both its traditional New Year’s Eve party on Copacabana beach and Carnival in February with no Covid-era restrictions. In explaining his opposition to masks mandates, Queiroga, who is the country’s 4th health minister since the pandemic started, said in a press conference: “Why would I pass a law to force people to use condoms? Don’t even think of it.”
I promise we wouldn’t think of it. I’ve written about masks and condoms a lot in the last year-and-a-half and have admitted from the beginning that while there are lessons to be learned about how to promote a lifesaving-but-not-necessarily-popular prevention strategy, the analogy is far from perfect. (Read my original article on the subject here and hear what I had to say on NPR this summer.)
No one wants to mandate condoms because the decision to use or not use a condom is made within a private relationship. Assuming sex is consensual, two (or more) people evaluate their risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or pregnancy and make a condom decision accordingly. Obviously, many of them miscalculate given that there are an estimated 20+ million new STI infections in the U.S. each year and nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended, but the intimate nature of the interactions means public health can only make recommendations (over and over and over again).
Masks are different. The people who will crowd Rio’s beach on New Year’s Eve will not necessarily know the person to their left or their right, they will not have the opportunity to ask where they’re from, who they’ve interacted with in the last week, or if they’ve been vaccinated. Wearing a mask is a way to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 without the answers to these questions and can prevent these celebrations from becoming true super-spreader events in a country that has already lost 600,000 people to this virus.
I will admit that I’m more concerned about mask mandates in schools and supermarkets than I am at concerts, sporting events, or beach parties as the people who attend these have presumably done their own risk/benefit analysis in advance (though we do have to worry about those who staff the events). Brazil’s death toll is still 500 people a day (down from 3,000 in July) and public health experts don’t agree on whether delta has run its course there or not. I think it’s too early for anyone—from the Health Minister to the average college freshman—to be making plans to party like it’s 1999.
Given that they are, however, can I at least suggest a giant bowl of free condoms? That’s very ‘99.
She Gave Him 15 Minutes, He Gave Her HPV, Now Everyone is Suing GEICO
A Missouri woman is suing GEICO for $1 million dollars after a car incident (notice I did not say accident) left her not with a stiff neck or a broken leg but rather with genital warts.
In late 2017, a couple had sex in the backseat of a Hyundai Genesis insured by the company known for its talking gecko. The man (referred to in court documents as M.B.) says that he told his partner on at least three separate occasions that he’d been diagnosed with HPV-related cancer of the throat. The woman (known in court documents as M.O.) says she was unaware of this. Both parties acknowledge that they did not use condoms and that they had sex in places other than the vehicle.
M.O. was diagnosed with HPV—likely in the form of genital warts—during a routine gynecological exam the following year. Court documents say “she later learned that M.B. had given it to her.” I’m not sure how she confirmed that he was responsible, given just how ubiquitous HPV is. I am sure, however, that she can’t know whether it was the paradise by this particular dashboard light and not, say, that time at the Holiday Inn down the block that left her with warts. Nonetheless, she sought compensation from the automobile’s insurer.
The Hyundai was covered by a standard GEICO auto policy in Kansas where M.B. lives, and the man also had a $1 million umbrella liability policy that only applies when the auto coverage is activated. So, in February of this year, M.O.—or perhaps a very chill lawyer she hired—sent a letter to the insurer that read:
Here’s the Petition that will be filed against your insured, [M.B.]. Before doing so, we have been authorized to make one final attempt to resolve [M.O.’s] claims against your insured for the applicable limits of $1m. Let me know.
M.O. and M.B. also seem to have made their own arrangement through arbitration which awarded M.O. $5.2 million in damages but limited M.B.’s liability to whatever GEICO was willing to pay.
Now, GEICO has taken this to court seeking declaratory judgement that its policy does not, in fact, cover STI transmissions in cars. In addition to pointing out that this is not an injury caused by the car and that it’s not even clear that it happened in the car, the insurer said it was deliberately not made aware of the arbitration so that it could not mount a defense. In court documents, GEICO called the agreement between the two “collusive and non-adversarial arbitration” and suggested the purpose was to artificially inflate M.O.’s award.
This case is far from over. A judge is currently weighing a motion to dismiss GEICO’s lawsuit but in the meantime, she ruled that if the case does move forward the two parties would have to drop the initials because she isn’t buying their plea for privacy:
Furthermore, any allegedly private details became less private (although the court questions how private those details actually were if they were having sex in a car) when M.O. sent GEICO a demand letter making an insurance coverage claim. By doing so, she brought any arguably private matters into the more public domain.
Lawsuits and settlements over STI transmission are not new—we may all remember that Usher was sued by three women for allegedly giving them herpes—but even the judge can’t resist poking fun at these two for trying to get money out of a car insurance company. Could they have misunderstood what was meant by transmission?