Why I think Matt Walsh should teach his kids about safe(r) sex. Because there is such a thing.

A good friend pointed me towards this article by Matt Walsh, “I will not teach my kids about safe sex because there is no such thing“. Walsh is an American Christian blogger who writes on the various subjects that you’d expect an American Christian blogger to do. I started a one line response, which turned into the following counterargument.

Obviously, I am not an essayist or a relationship counsellor or an educator or a parent. I haven’t even written an essay or a literary review in about 10 years. So there may be many problems with my argument.

I think the writer’s failure here is his inability to think through the consequences of the subject.

Let’s take his points in sequence:

1. Sex is terrifying

Then surely the way to conquer any fear is to face it and talk about it? Surely, providing young people with the intellectual tools they need to deal with something that (despite its pleasures) does have the power to hurt. Allowing young people the space to discuss those questions in an open, honest, truthful way is surely far better that to hide the issues away and hope that the kids follow the rules.

2. Abortion

I think I’ll leave that issue. I haven’t read the medical literature and so I can’t weigh it against my own ethical stance.

3. You wouldn’t drink and drive

The argument here gets a bit muddled, but let me try and parse it. The author equivalates saying “Don’t drink and drive, but if you do, wear a seatbelt”.

I see this as a logical fallacy, in that the level of risk (and the level of consequences)of drink driving are far higher than those of unprotected sex. Perhaps a better analogy might be: “You can cook a meal over an open flame, but if you’re careless, you’ll burn yourself”.

The latter analogy does not assume the worst in anyone: it recognises that accidents happen.

I think it’s a dangerous idea to suggest that knowing about something leads someone to believe they have the authority to do that thing. I suspect it’s the same line of thinking that suggests violent video games cause people to be violent (hint: they don’t).

Later on, near the end, he comes back to this same point:

“Do you, in any other situation, elect to forgo teaching your kid to do what is right and instead prepare him to do the next best thing? Do you ever tell your child to shoot for a ‘C’ in math class? Do you ever tell her to make sure she only engages in reasonable levels of bullying and gossip? Do you ever tell your son to only vandalize abandoned properties? Do you ever tell your daughter to only lie to you once a week? Do you ever tell your son to only forge your signature on his report card if he’s really sure it looks super accurate?”

These are, we all agree, bad things to do. But I think these are simply non-equivalent red herrings rather like the drink driving point.

4.Prevalence of non-marital sex

I’d like to see the data on that. Do we assume it’s more prevalent because people talk about sex more openly nowadays? I don’t know. Certainly people do tend get married later. But I don’t see what his point is.

My point

Oh yes, that.

One final point to think about: it’s well proven that (a) non-marital sex happens (otherwise we wouldn’t be discussing); (b) countries with more comprehensive sex education have lower rates of teen pregnancies and STIs; (c) fewer unplanned pregnancies means fewer abortions.

As an aside, I therefore feel that it’s intellectually untenable to be hardline anti-abortion and anti sex education at the same time, given that one is shown to clearly prevent the other. But I digress.

Whether you tell them to abstain until their wedding day or not, it’s important to also give young people a baseline understanding of what sex is, how to deal with it, how to recognise and deal with rape and sexual violence, how to talk about relationships. This gives people the tools they need to cope with the world around them.

I feel that Walsh in his post has simply used a list of logical fallacies to explain why he is unwilling (or unable) to discuss sex openly and honestly. We know that sex is an important part of the human condition (mammals wouldn’t exist without it!), despite and because of all its joys and consequences.

I hope that when his children grow up, Walsh does change his mind and provide his children with the knowledge they will need to cope with the realities of the world around them.