THEY are a professional couple in their 30s, happily married, with good jobs in the city and a mortgage in the suburbs. They long to have a family. But so far, the room they've decorated as a nursery remains empty. Inevitably, the wife wonders if she is responsible for her infertility: Could her carefree sexual activity during college and beyond have caused reproductive problems that are now making conception difficult?
As a baby boomer, the would-be mother came of age when the sexual revolution was in full bloom, promising women almost unlimited freedom. Don't worry about pregnancy, young women were told - the Pill and the intrauterine device (IUD) will provide near-total protection. And don't worry about social disapproval, they were reassured - more relaxed attitudes are erasing the stigma against unmarried sex and out-of-wedlock births.
But what no one told these women at the time was that using IUDs might produce infertility and having multiple sexual partners could result in often-undetected venereal diseases.
A study released last week by the Alan Guttmacher Institute claims that 1 of every 5 Americans - 56 million people - has a sexually transmitted disease. Among the 12 million new cases diagnosed each year, two-thirds occur in those under 25 and one-fourth in teenagers. Even adolescents with one sexual partner become vulnerable, the report states. These diseases are said to affect women disproportionately, the study continues. Yet federal and state programs to deal with them focus primarily on treating men .
Every revolution has its losing side. In the sexual revolution, evidence continues to mount that the supposed winners - "liberated" women - are in some cases turning out to be the losers. Instead of the freedom and equality they thought they had achieved, too many find themselves shackled by unplanned pregnancies, abortions, single motherhood, infections, or infertility.
The professional woman with the empty nursery puts it this way: "My generation is going through a really rude awakening. A lot of my friends have deep regrets about their past sexual relationships. I know women who are furious, either because they've developed problems from using IUDs or because nobody told them about the wide range of sexually transmitted diseases."