Science & Sex—Why Are They Now Strangers?

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking at NECSS—the Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism. I was surrounded by world-class scientists, including Yale Med School neurologist Steve Novella, Stanford physicist Deborah Berebichez, Oxford neuroscientist Heather Berlin, and even Bill Nye The Science Guy.

It was glorious—no explaining why science is important to everything we do or touch or think. Every one of the 600 attendees “believes” in gravity, evolution, and the Scientific Method.

I started each of the conference’s three days in a wonderful bubble. But each day, news from the outside world was an ugly intruder—which, in a way, was why I was asked to speak there. My talk was on religion’s successful challenge to democracy and public policy—which is particularly visible in the realm of sexuality.

My opening presentation was pretty straightforward:
* Organized religion has successfully marketed itself as Morality Experts
* Organized religion has persuaded many people that sex is mostly about morality—and therefore, they are society’s Sex Experts
* Organized religion has persuaded many people that sexual morality is about limiting choices (as opposed to, say, ethical decision-making or transparency).
* Therefore, when organized religion gets political power, it invariably limits everyone’s choices concerning sexuality.
* Organized religion is aggressive in including a huge number of human enterprises within its supervision of our sexuality.

Some American politicians (such as Michelle Bachman and Scott Walker) are devout believers, with whom the above message resonates deeply. They enthusiastically drag America down to social illiteracy with them. But many politicians (such as Chris Christie) are simply for sale, and will cynically flaunt newfound religious and erotophobic bonafides as part of fundraising and campaigning.

That’s why I called my talk “The Successful Subversion of Secularism.”

Here are just a few reminders of the way organized religion denies science—hard-won human knowledge and certainty—to maintain its power and enforce its mass delusions on people of faith. Professionally-executed, peer-reviewed science shows that:

* Comprehensive school sex education does not sexualize young people.
In fact, kids going through such programs are more likely to postpone first intercourse, more likely to use birth control when they do initiate intercourse, more likely to communicate with their partners about sex, and have fewer lifetime sex partners.

Shame on Congress: Year after year, Congress has refused to require American sex education programs, including those receiving federal funds, to be scientifically accurate.

* Abortion is not dangerous.
Neither surgical nor pharmaceutical abortion causes mental illness, cancer, infertility, or even deep regret. Science demonstrates that most women who get abortions are glad they had abortions. Any regret they feel is typically about the awful situation they were in that led to them to choose an abortion. Ironically, those who promote the lie that abortion harms the women who get them make abortions as physically and emotionally onerous as possible, creating the result they claim they wish to avoid.

Statistically, legal abortion is safer than childbirth.

Oh, fetal pain in the first two trimesters (when almost all abortions are done)? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association and the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it’s physiologically impossible.

Shame on anti-choice people who rob other humans of their rights and adulthood. Shame on anti-choice people who don’t reduce the amount of abortion, just its safety. Shame on anti-choice people who refuse to promote contraception, which is the single most effective way of reducing abortion. And shame on anti-choice people who call fetuses “unborn children,” which make as much sense as calling food “pre-digested turds.”

And for those who think God is against abortion, here’s a factual reminder: God’s holy Church didn’t even ban it for over 1,000 years, between St. Augustine and Pope Sixtus. And the Church tolerated it again between 1591 and 1869. Apparently God’s pretty flexible about abortion if you take a long enough view.

* Sexual violence on campus is not increasing.
It’s common for activists and politicians to repeat that “1 in 5 women are raped in college”—which is absolutely untrue. This exuberant summary of ONE study does NOT reflect the statements of respondents; it is the judgement of researchers coding respondents’ answers. They actually coded unwanted kissing and fondling as rape. That isn’t science, that’s propaganda. Is that your definition of rape?

Statistically, college campuses are among the safest places for young women in America and indeed, the world. Do women students get hassled, even groped a few times in four years? Yes, which is depressing. It ought to change. It isn’t rape.

Shame on President Obama, New York Senator Gillibrand, Rolling Stone magazine, broadcaster Keith Olbermann, and everyone else who carelessly repeats the lie that we are in the grip of a sexual assault epidemic. And shame on the college students who are promoting this myth by inflating the category of “rape” so broadly that almost any unwanted sexual attention qualifies. That trivializes real rape.

* Condoms are effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies and STIs.
Condoms are a modern miracle, and they work better than ever. They are now thinner, stronger, and they come in various sizes for penises that are a little smaller or larger than average. They’re not perfect, but statistically, they work very, very well, especially when used correctly. If your computer were as reliable as a condom, most IT consultants would be out of business.

Shame on Focus on the Family, whose internal memos have reflected their insight that unless they can persuade the public that condoms don’t work, people “can argue that the only thing holding people back from free sexual expression is outdated, irrelevant religions restrictions.”
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Sex and science shouldn’t be adversaries, but organized religion and cynical politicians have made them so, especially when it comes to sex. The Religious Right says it wants to regulate various parts of dating, reproduction, education, entertainment, technology, the criminal justice system, and academic and medical research—all specifically in contradiction to science.

It’s hard to believe that just a few decades ago, Americans valued science, and turned to it for the answers to many of life’s vexing questions. Now science is considered as just another opinion, easily dismissed by even educated people. Vaccination, evolution, climate change, sex offender treatment—why bother with science, when anyone, informed or not, can have (and distribute) strong opinions?

Americans proudly say that everyone’s entitled to their opinion. Unfortunately, too many people feel entitled to their own “facts” as well, especially when it comes to sex.

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