We know that President Trump has an interesting relationship to facts. When it comes to sex he’s not alone.
People believe the darnedest things about sexuality, as if it’s a relief to “know” that sex is bad for you, dangerous to others, and so powerful that we’re all just one step away from civilization collapsing under the urgency and blind selfishness of desire.
But there are things that are known—not just felt, not preferred, not imagined or opined on. They are things about sex that are known. They’re measurable. They’re called facts.
Here are some facts, Mr. Trump, of which you should be aware when formulating policy. You particularly need to know these facts when those around you express their own fear of sexuality by urging you to control everyone else’s sexuality.
* FACT: Comprehensive sex education reduces teen pregnancy (and therefore teen abortion) and teen STDs.
True, many people are uncomfortable acknowledging teen sexuality. Such people can just say that, without denying the science showing that the more accurate information teens have, the more responsibly they behave.
* FACT: Children who grow up with two parents of the same gender have the same mental health and educational outcomes as children with parents of different genders, when families are matched for income.
True, many people think it’s creepy that gay people couple up, and even creepier that they raise kids, and super creepy that such kids think their household is normal. I understand that many such people don’t feel free to say so these days, because it’s now considered boorish and prejudiced to do so. Nevertheless, people can feel it’s creepy without denying the facts.
In twenty years, there will be so many dentists, high school teachers, and grocery clerks raised in gay households that almost no one will make a fuss about it.
* FACT: There is no increasing epidemic of rape on college campuses or anywhere else in America.
True, there’s too damn much rape in this country. But according to the FBI, the rate of rape is decreasing, not increasing. Yes, rape is under-reported, but it was even more under-reported ten and twenty years ago than it is now.
The “one-in-five college women are sexually assaulted” meme now cited so often is the result of a study using terrible methodology. Instead of asking women “have you been sexually assaulted,” the questionnaire asked about their experiences. The scientist then decided what to code as sexual assault, including unwanted kissing. Unwanted kissing is definitely disgusting, but grouping it together with rape trivializes rape.
In the Congo today, hungry, enraged, and crazy-high soldiers rape women and girls as an instrument of war. One in five women in the Congo has been raped. To imagine that Ohio State or Harvard are as dangerous as war-time Congo is not only a bizarre fantasy, it does nothing to reduce actual sexual violence in America or anywhere else.
* FACT: The overwhelming majority of women who get legal abortions are glad they did, and suffer no emotional or health problems.
True, some people are against legal abortion whether women suffer or not. Still, it would show more integrity if anti-choice people would acknowledge that most women who get abortions—and their partners—are glad they did so.
* FACT: Patrons of strip clubs don’t commit sexual violence at a higher rate than men who don’t go to strip clubs.
Strip club patrons are a cross-section of Americans—the good, the bad, and the ugly. When matched for age, education, and income (which are primary predictors of criminal behavior), club patrons and non-patrons look remarkably similar. People can be against strip clubs—you can say they’re immoral, they’re disgusting, they reinforce gender roles, they’re a waste of everyone’s time—without trashing the people who go there or the people who work there.
* FACT: Adults convicted of sexually exploiting children have a substantially lower rate of re-offending than adults convicted of armed robbery, arson, or violent assault.
Obviously, no one is more loathed than an adult who sexualizes a child—regardless of how much a child is affected by his or her experiences. But people are free to loathe without inventing stories about how molesters pose a lifelong threat to every child on earth. The rate at which child molesters can actually grow beyond their previous horrible choices is actually quite impressive. They could even become productive members of society—if they weren’t forced to live under freeway overpasses and homeless encampments on the edge of town.
* FACT: The overwhelming majority of internet pornography is not violent, and depicts consensual sex.
There’s a simple reason for this: of the 60 million Americans who regularly watch porn, most of them want porn that depicts consensual rather than violent sex. Activists who claim that most porn is violent are saying that most people who watch porn want to watch violent sex. That’s a bizarre assertion, since porn watchers are our husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, and friends. Activists are free to hate porn—to hate the masturbation that accompanies it, to hate the range of sexual choices it depicts, to hate the reality that so many marriages include inadequate sexual lives.
But every activist who claims that most porn is violent needs to answer a simple question: of the men in your life, which ones do you believe prefer porn that shows violence to porn that shows pleasure and consent?
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Public policy regarding sexual issues like these is, sadly, usually more about perception than fact. This makes sexual issues a perfect fit for one of President Trump’s worst approaches to governing. In a sense, sexual issues will be the canary in the coal mine that lets us know just how committed Trump and his advisors are to a fact-free administration—no matter how much it harms the Americans whose lives they have pledged to make great again.