HIV, Bargirls, and Statistics
In thinking about the "My HIV Story" submission, it occurs to me that there's a good lesson there for people who play around the bar scene and marry the women they meet there.
Consider HIV and AIDS as an example of a widely discussed topic which people continue to misunderstand. First, the odds of a man getting HIV infection from a woman is statistically quite low – far lower than 1%. If the man is in general good health and the woman doesn't have a very high virus load then the odds of infection via unprotected sex is about 1-in-1,000. Some studies suggest higher numbers, other lower but 1/1000th is a statistically defensible number.
With an HIV infection, even without retroviral drug treatment, a healthy person only has a 1-in-8 chance of actually developing AIDS. Many people are infected but with a small enough dose that their immune system never permits the virus to take over. These are the asymptomatic carriers who never even realize they're infected. Those horrific statistics coming out of Africa about sky-high infection rates are a function of the fact that malnutrition is a major risk factor for a weak immune system. If you are unhealthy, none of those above statistics apply to you.
Put that together with current estimates of infection rate among sex workers is ~5.3% and the observed fact that infection rate is higher among male sex workers and lower-cost providers. That means if the girl came from a bar, massage parlor, or gogo club – the odds are <4% that she's HIV positive. Another factor for bargirls in the sex industry is the use of lubricants. Much as customers would like to believe that their inherent attractiveness is the reason, working girls use lubricants as standard equipment. Such aids reduce the odds of infection by providing both an additional barrier as well as reduce the chances of abrasion.
What does that mean in terms of statistics?
If a man traveled to Bangkok and had unprotected sex with a different woman twice a night for 3 months every year for 10 years (930 sex partners) in a row, that man's chances of being healthy at the end of that decade is… 99.53%.
Put it another way – in the course of having unprotected sex with those 930 partners, the most dangerous thing that the guy did was to get into a cab. A healthy but horny visitor in Bangkok is more likely to be involved in a deadly road accident than he is of dying from AIDS.
Which brings us to marrying bar girls. People are told how stupid it is – much like unprotected sex with a stranger. People do it anyways for the same reason they have unprotected sex – they're thinking with the wrong head. They don't think about the multiple of factors which make such a marriage unlikely to succeed. No effort is made to actually figure out the odds. They misunderstand what it means to marry a bargirl.
Consider that for men in America, the odds that he will file divorce is about 1-in-23 assuming it's his first marriage. If the man has been previously married, make that about 1-in-10. Most of the people divorcing have done it before. If both the man and the woman are previously divorced, they've got a 3-in-5 chance of yet another divorce. Given how many men show up in Thailand looking for new love after a divorce and how many bargirls end up in the industry due to a bad marriage, we're already off to a bad start.
The odds of meeting a girl in the nightlife industry who doesn't have an existing marriage, abusive relationship, substance abuse, gambling addiction, etc. are even worse. Tack on the odds of any marriage between people of significantly different age. Add to that the lower odds of a marriage between people from different social background.
Basically, it's statistically unlikely that a marriage to a bargirl will work. Once you add in all of those odds, I'd say the ballpark chance of a successful marriage after 10 years is less than 1%, and that's probably generous. Most likely it's worse than that because sometime people decide to take the bar girl out of Thailand – adding yet another factor which encourages failed marriages.
What's interesting is that people worry far more about getting infected with AIDS than they are of a failed marriage. Doctors have retroviral therapy that works for most people to extend their lives. Nobody has yet come up with the same success rate for extending bad marriages. Marriage therapy can easily cost more than retroviral treatments and a divorce usually DOES cost a lot more than paying doctors.
When considering the number of people who die under suspicious circumstances in Thailand, I'd go so far as to say that having unprotected sex with nearly a thousand bargirls could be safer than marrying one!
Very interesting thoughts. Would be interesting to hear others' opinion on this.