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.

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

  1. Thank you sooo soo much!!!! I just read his post and this seems quite ridiculous. Safe sex DOES exist. I’ve read some of the comments, where a person talked about being ultra conservative and going to Christian schools, but then she notes anecdotal evidence about how other girls would get pregnant because they were misinformed about sex. Oi vey.

  2. Real quick about the drunk driving analogy. The point that I think Walsh is making is that you want to avoid stupid decisions that not only effect yourself but others as well. Don’t trivialize something that can lead to serious consequences down the road (be it a pregnancy, STD, or emotionally getting hurt). Yes, your kids may have sex. But shouldn’t parents and schools be endorsing what should be the appropriate behaviour rather than it only preparing kids for the worst case scenario? We teach to drink responsibly so that no one gets hurt, but you can sleep with any willing body regardless of the serious life-changing events that can happen. I am not saying we should live in fear of sex, but we should do it in a way that includes the least amount of risk to yourself and others.

    • Tyler, your point about trivialising the issue is a good one. I certainly am not immune to ignoring some of the potential poor outcomes of any sex that takes place outside of a religious marriage.

      However, my worry is that the likes of Matt Walsh trivialise safer sex to the point where they ignore its very existence. The thing is, there is no real way to drive a car safely while drunk, and yet it’s entirely possible to have safer sex even when not in a religious marriage.

      In my opinion, it’s our onus as a society to look at the realities of the world in a completely sensible, evidence-based way and to ensure that young people are given all the support they need in order to survive as the enter the real world.

  3. NO no no…. Walsh meant what he said in the title ” there is no such thing as safe sex”. You might have “safe” sex- and not get pregnant nor diseased- but a piece or rubber does Not protect the human heart from the trauma of exposing the parts of you that were not meant to be passed around like a birthday cake at a party. Because of this , he stated the FACT – the safest sex is absitence!

    “In my opinion, it’s our onus as a society to look at the realities of the world in a completely sensible, evidence-based way and to ensure that young people are given all the support they need in order to survive as the enter the real world.”

    Do you need a research team to believe that abstence leads to Zero STD’s or pregnancy? “The realities” are this- abstinence is much wiser than the opposite- I am sorry but you liberal people make head hurt. You use words like ‘ Survive” People survive the ebola virus bro. They won’t die from no sex. What is wrong with you people?

    • Thanks for posting.

      I think first, for a bit of definition, what I mean is “safer sex” rather than “safe sex” – just to make it clear that no method of contraception that allows intercourse is ever 100% safe. And emotionally speaking, relationships aren’t 100% safe either.

      First, to the abstinence/safer sex point:

      The idea that the safest sex is abstinence is similar to saying the safest way to fly is to walk. Or the safest way to bungee jump is to stay on the ground. Well, frankly, bungee jumping and flying are things that we also do for pleasure. And further to that, I see it like this:

      Imaginary situation 1. A person received has all the abstinence instruction that they can get. They take it on board, and then one day they slip up (we’re human and temptation exists, right?) Because they have no education on safer sex, then the chances of pregnancy and disease are higher. And indeed this is proven by masses of data over the last decades.

      Actually, a thought here: Abstinence leads to zero pregnancies and STIs. But the data shows that abstinence education leads to higher rates of pregnancy and STIs.

      Imaginary situation 2. A person receives comprehensive safer sex information. Then their parents request that they remain abstinent. Then one day they slip up. What might the chances be of a pregnancy or STI?

      It’s a point to ponder at least.

      Secondly to the emotional side. I think it’s really important to give young people a well rounded age-appropriate relationship education. It’s important that they understand how much sex can be misused and abused by people, and to also understand how well they themselves can cope with the tribulations of modern relationships and all that they entail – and to try their best to act appropriately. So we have to provide the support and guidance that’s required to do that. It requires a mix of prior preparation and a supportive network of adults and peers.

      • I often here people quote the ‘data’ that “abstinence education leds to more (fill in blank)” 1. I don’t believe it. Scientists doesn’t say anything…Scientists Do. Everyone has a viewpoint , and if anyone has a biased it is these types of people. But I am an open-minded guy- if you can link a study that shows this I will look at it.
        2. Here is the ‘sex/relationship’ education that works- to child ‘If you have premarital sex, you will probably regret it. If you wait and trust the Lord for a mate, you won’t.” This is great advice that Works.

  4. Thanks Rob. Here’s a small sample. Most of the data I could find was from the US, as I only had a moment to search in English (and the US is an English speaking country with a large population and a variety of sex / no-sex education programmes in place). Will add more when I get a chance

    1. Selections from a 2008 congressional hearing stating that AOE is counterproductive http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/gpr/11/2/gpr110219.html

    2. Systematic review (that is, an evaluation of some 80 separate research papers from the mid-90s to mid-2000s) concluding “…policies or programs offering ‘abstinence only’ or ‘abstinence until marriage’ as a single option for adolescents are scientifically and ethically flawed. Although abstinence … is theoretically fully protective against pregnancy and disease, in actual practice, AO programs often fail to prevent these outcomes. Although federal support of AO programs has grown rapidly, … existing evaluations of such programs either do not meet standards for scientific evaluation or lack evidence of efficacy in delaying initiation of sexual intercourse.”
    http://www.researchgate.net/publication/7384593_Abstinence_and_abstinence-only_education_a_review_of_U.S._policies_and_programs

    3. A 2011 article showing that in the US, even when adjusted for income and ethnicity, there is still a statistically significant increase in negative consequences of AOE
    http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0024658

    4. A 2005 systematic review stating: “Although abstinence is a healthy behavioral option for teens, abstinence as a sole option for adolescents is scientifically and ethically problematic. A recent emphasis on AO programs and policies appears to be undermining more comprehensive sexuality education”
    http://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(05)00467-2/abstract

    4. And an interesting point I found on wikipedia (so be wary of this!):
    “A federally funded University of Pennsylvania study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that only one third of sixth- and seventh-graders who completed abstinence-focused programs had sex within the next two years, compared to nearly half of the students who attended other classes, including ones that taught combined abstinence and contraception. Critics pointed out that the abstinence program used in the study was not representative of most abstinence programs; it did not take a moralistic tone, encouraged children to delay sex until ready instead of until married, did not portray extramarital sex as inappropriate, and did not disparage contraceptives. The sample groups were also exclusively African-American and therefore not demographically representative of the entire population.”
    So basically this programme was a comprehensive sex education programme that also advised youngsters to wait. And it seems to work far better than AOE.

    So perhaps there is potential in a middle ground approach?

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