The roof lounge at the Hotel Gansevoort enjoys the somewhat dubious honor of being the center of New York City’s vast white-collar meat market. This late-summer Saturday, a trio of clean-cut married guys on the balcony are clutching highballs and trading anecdotes about great moments in poor sexual judgment during their recently ended bachelor days. The one thing they agree on is this: There’s not much to fear out there.
“The only disease I ever got was crabs,” says Mike, 35, scanning the banquettes of women in too-short-for-Casual-Friday dresses, "and that was worth it!” This delights his friends, Evan, 37, and Alan, 43. Handily one-upping his pal, Alan recalls a wild night in a Miami swimming pool. “She ended up giving me chlamydia,” he says. “And the sick thing is, two or three weeks later I saw her at a party and told her what happened—but she looked even better! So, dude, I took her home, and I got it again!” They all burst into laughter.
“The biggest thing to me is, I don’t know anyone—nobody straight—who’s ever gotten AIDS,” Mike says. “And the rest you can fix with a shot.”
“Not herpes,” Evan says.
“Not herpes,” Mike agrees, “but surprisingly few girls ever asked me to wear a condom. I mean, look at us—we look clean, we look professional. The most that happens is you put it in there and ask if they’re on the Pill—when you’re already doing it!” Mike kills with this one. It’d be easy to dismiss him and his friends as marginal sleazebags, but here’s the thing: Evan and Alan are physicians. And Mike? He works for a major pharmaceuticals company. If these guys weren’t practicing safe sex, who is?
Today AIDS doesn’t evoke the kind of terror it once did. The swarm of other sexually transmitted diseases is seen as little more than a nuisance. And what about the other classic motivator to use protection, unplanned pregnancy? After all, it’s been known to destroy perfectly happy relationships, whether the pregnancy is terminated or the woman decides to keep the baby and go it alone. But even before the FDA finally approved over-the-counter sales of the controversial Plan B “morning-after pill” in August, some straight men seem to have decided to go without the little latex insurance policy.
Of course, putting exact numbers on the bedroom habits of a nation is a dubious enterprise. But plenty of signposts suggest that the Gansevoort Three are more the rule than the exception. Condom sales in the United States are flatlining. Syphilis is making a comeback—between 1999 and 2003, it shot up by 43 percent among American men. Chlamydia cases doubled between 1994 and 2004. Even HIV is making a quiet return: Since 2001, the number of new cases in the U.S. has been edging upward.
Dr. Steven Berman, a Manhattan urologist who’s been in practice for 20 years, blames a new complacency for the recent rise in STDs. “It keeps us in business,” he says. “It’s across the board, heterosexual and homosexual. I’m talking about a tremendous rise in human papillomavirus [the cause of genital warts] and chlamydia in the heterosexual population. People don’t want to be bothered. There’s a tremendous number of people with multiple partners now who might use a condom on the first contact but then frequently drop using condoms quickly afterwards. Even populations who are at risk—patients I’ve treated before for STDs—some men are resistant to using condoms. It’s not sinking in—the message is just not clear.”