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I don't doubt that a lot of the women Johnson slept with were as much seducers as victims. But perhaps he should have thought better of them than they thought of themselves. Often, this is what constitutes a gentleman.
Instead, Johnson says he did his best to "accommodate" as many women as possible. Given that female-to-male transmission of the AIDS virus is still relatively rare, Johnson hit long odds when he was stricken by the virus through heterosexual contact, but his promiscuity was such that his chances of coming into contact with an infected woman rose considerably. He now implies that women arc something like radiation: A little bit is O.K., but overexposure can kill you. "It doesn't matter how beautiful the woman might be or how tempting she might sound on the telephone," he wrote in last week's SI. "I know that we are pursued by women so much that it is easy to be weak. Maybe by getting the virus I'll make it easier for you guys to be strong."
I do not hear enough concern for his sexual partners in Johnson's statement, particularly given that AIDS is transmitted far more frequently from males to females than from females to males. I do not hear Johnson admit that he may have done considerable pursuing himself. I do not hear a pronounced enough sense of responsibility.
I have a friend, Nancy, who lives in Los Angeles. She is tolerant about sexual matters, as might be expected of one who was young and single in the 1970s and '80s. She read that Wilt Chamberlain had slept with, by his approximation, 20,000 women. "He ought to be in jail," she said.
In the age of AIDS, even if a man had unsafe sex with "only" 2,000 women, the numbers grow astonishingly. Let's say those 2,000 women each slept with five men afterward. The number of those exposed to the possibility of infection begins with a group large enough to populate a zip code, then grows to a state-sized one, then to one the size of a small nation. That is truly what is meant when it is said that, these days, you do not just sleep with one person, you sleep with everybody that person ever slept with.
Women must deal with Johnson's irresponsibility in other, less obvious ways. Another of my friends, Rachel, lives in Florida with her husband and three children, one of them a nine-year-old boy. She provides sexual information to her children on what she laughingly calls a "need-to-know" basis. The other day she had to explain to her son that Johnson is probably doomed, and then she had to stumble through an explanation of how a condom is used.
"How does this affect women?" she is asked. She answers, her voice wandering between rue and anger, "Well, we're the ones who have to explain it to the kids."