Irrational Arguments for Ignorance-Only Sex Ed

Focus on the Family has added a new analogy to their laundry list of irrational arguments for ignorance-only sex education — It’s like a forest fire, you see, and you should prevent them rather than respond to them. Uh, what?

Wouldn’t we all agree that it’s better to prevent a forest fire, if and when possible, than treat the immense damage in its aftermath?

These questions are similar to what the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) is asking Congress and state legislatures about our nation’s approach toward pre-marital sex … Certain questions arise: Why aren’t our schools, our states and our nation placing a clear and unquestionable priority on sexual risk avoidance (SRA)? Why are we intentionally spending billions of dollars handing kids matches (condoms), which result in careless (sexual) “fires” and treating victims who have been unnecessarily burned by sex (STDs, pregnancy)? Wouldn’t prevention be cheaper and healthier?

“Safe” sex education – or promoting casual sex, while handing out condoms and birth control to kids – is analogous to passing out matches to kids in school, and telling them, “Be sure you play safely with these in the forest and, above all, have fun!”

It’s irresponsible messaging that encourages high-risk behavior at a great cost to families and our entire nation.

Yet our federal government currently pours nearly 16 times as much money into “safe” sex education than it does into helping kids learn how to avoid starting fires in the area of sexuality or SRA. Perhaps this is why we have so many uncontained “fires” caused by sex outside of marriage.

What can we learn?

  • Neither adults nor children should ever play carelessly with matches or fire, especially in forests. Safe places exist to enjoy the warmth of a contained fire in the right context at the right time – started and monitored by responsible adults.
  • Neither adults nor children should carelessly play with sex, especially outside of marriage. A safe place exists to enjoy sexual bonding within the right context at the right time – when a responsible, adult man and adult woman are able sustain a lifelong, commitment to each other within the context of marriage.
  • Don’t get burned by fire or sex; both can get out of control quickly, and both have the potential to harm you – and to hurt many other people, as well. Keep fires in the fireplace, and keep sex inside of marriage.

It’s a terrible analogy, of course, because even if you do try to prevent forest fires — as you obviously should — you don’t disband the fire department and not train to fight them. And they make it sound as though the choice is between whether kids have sex or don’t have sex, but that isn’t the choice. Abstinence-only sex education doesn’t actually make anyone remain abstinent. And comprehensive sex education includes teaching that abstinence is the only 100% effective way to avoid negative consequences. The choice is between keeping kids ignorant and helping them make knowledgeable and safe choices.


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  • oranje

    Prevent them rather than respond to them? At least they’re being consistent: “preventing” fires is naturally inconsistent, as mature forests can handle them just fine. Forests managed to exist before humans, somehow, after all.

    No, it’s very consistent indeed from them. Ignore scientific reality and futilely going around thinking the impossible is the only solution.

  • erichoug

    Any time an argument begins with “Wouldn’t you agree..” or “I’m sure you would agree..” My automatic respose these days is “Go fuck yourself!” as it is going to be either a complete non-sequitor or something comepletely idiotic.

  • Because trees being ignorant of fire protects them from forest fires.

    Or something.

  • matty1

    He isn’t even right fires. Fire is a natural part of many ecosystems and a valuable management tool when those systems are managed by humans (which they are). Trying to prevent any and all fires can lead to a dangerous buildup of combustible material that means when a fire does come it is more damaging and a greater danger to nearby people.

    I’m tempted to make analogies but they seem to obvious to need spelling out.

  • oranje

    I’m sure the joke/analogy has been beaten to death, but I’m once again reminded of the notion that, if we’re only going to teach abstinence in sex ed, we should only teach not-driving in drivers ed. Driving is very dangerous, after all, and the only way to be safe is to not do it.

  • andrewjohnston

    Wouldn’t the condom be more analogous to a fire extinguisher? I’m sure the commenters will be pulling this thing apart all day, but that one seems especially obvious. You can’t have fire without combustion, but as so many young people seem intent on proving, you can have sex without contraception.

  • It hasn’t occurred to them the only way abstinence will work is if everybody suddenly becomes asexual. Time to get to work on the A-Bomb…oh wait, that name’s already taken.

  • DaveL

    Why are we intentionally spending billions of dollars handing kids matches (condoms), which result in careless (sexual) “fires”

    So now condoms cause sex? How do these people manage to conceive children? Do they keep specially sabotaged condoms just for this purpose?

    I’d love to see what breeding season looks like on the various farms in their universe.

  • “So, either I’m the luckiest son-of-a-bitch who ever was, which I’m NOT. Or this is the most reliable product since the toaster.” — Bill Maher on condoms.

    I’d love to hear Farces on the Family explain why all the sexy fires are burning brightly out of control (teen pregnancies and STDs) in the Southern states, where abstinence-only is the only sex “education” kids are allowed to have.

    And why the state’s with the lowest numbers of those things have comprehensive sex ed.

  • naturalcynic

    It’s a worse analogy than you explain. The more current idea is not to prevent fires, it’s to control them so there is little chance that they get into the forest canopy. Fires are needed to control the underbrush so any fire that does occur won’t have enough fuel to climb the trunk and involve the tree foliage. Allowing underbrush to grow will allow a small fire to climb into the canopy and you will have a disastrous fire that kills nearly everything.

    With abstinence, sex becomes a really big issue and things can go wrong with healthy sexuality when it does occur. Fear is built up along with desire, which may result in more aberrant behavior and repression.

  • dingojack

    Have these morons never heard of ‘hazard reduction fires’?

    Is kinda like saying ‘well since fires will happen, how about we reduce the amount of fuel that a fire has available to it, before it becomes an unmitigated disaster’? – or – ‘since sex is gonna happen (as has been shown by the abject failure of ‘abstence-only’ sex education), how about we explain how not to get pregnant thus avoiding the cost to the economy of teenaged mothers & fathers, and rampant STDs’?


  • Abby Normal

    Sticking with the analogy for a moment, don’t most national parks include specific areas for camp fires and post signs on the proper use of fire in the park? They don’t tell campers, “Don’t build fires because they can lead to forest fires.” Instead the government provides information and resources to make fire building safer if you choose to engage in that activity.

  • They can’t prevent kids from having sex, but they can make sure there will be permanent and life-changing consequences for it!

  • The Lorax

    Woo, I love analogies!

    Okay, so they’re trying to claim that preventing forest fires is best done by… wait, what?

    I think the analogy falls apart here, so let me skip to the other part of the analogy to try to piece it together. Apparently, the alternative to ‘abstinence’ is ‘education’ (and this is a bad thing… wait, what?), and in this case, ‘education’ means giving kids (wait, what? why kids? They’re not kids, they’re teenagers, they are at the age when they learn to make rational decisions) matches and having them play in the forest. Ohh, I see, no guys, I get it now. ‘Abstinence Only’ with regard to forest fires means you are not allowed to have a fire.

    So, I guess we’re not allowed to cook food any more, unless you’re using a microwave. Because fire is dangerous, be it in a forest, or a home. We need abstinence only methods to prevent things from burning down, and that means, no fire whatsoever. It also means no education whatsoever on the merits or dangers of fire. However, since humans aren’t going to surgically remove their reproductive organs, this is akin to making sure that every convenience store maintains a stock of matches, lighters, candles, and whatnot right next to the cashier, so that those items are available for everyone to use. However, no one will ever be taught how to use them, and everyone will be told not to use them.

    … wait, what?

  • John Hinkle

    Well, it’s not like teenagers think about sex. Ever. So why even mention abstinence? You’re just putting ideas in their innocent heads. Don’t mention sex and they won’t even know it exists… until they get married in the Church, properly, man and wife. Then they can look to the Bible for sex instructions. There they’ll find that they can “know” each other, and “lie” with each other.*


    * Note: This may put a dent in the fundies’ Tribal Growth Program.

  • kosk11348

    The abstinence method for educating people on how to prevent forest fires: “Don’t ever go in forests!”

  • Randomfactor

    enjoy the warmth of a contained fire

    Sounds like an argument FOR condoms, if you ask me.

  • d cwilson

    DaveL says:

    So now condoms cause sex?

    They fervently believe so. If it weren’t for condoms, kids would never have sex outside of marriage.

    Though it worries me, I’m actually starting to understand Fundiespeak. When they use fire as an analogy, they’re not comparing it teen pregnancy. Fire in their analogy means teens having sex. That’s what they really want to prevent. And if teens do have sex, then they should be punished for it with babies or STDs.

    We look at this issue completely different because we accept that teens are going to have sex anyway, so they might as well reduce their risk and prevent unwanted pregnancy. The goal of abstinance-only “education”, however, is not to prevent teen pregnancy. In their minds, that’s just a by-produce of their real goal: Telling teens not to have sex.

    This is also why they’re completely unmoved by statistics showing teens in abstinance-only classes are no less likely to have sex than teens in comprehensive sex ed. Pregnant teens are getting the just rewards for their sinful ways, ie, single motherhood or STDs. Only the ones that actually do practice abstinence (or at least, get lucky when they do have sex) count.

  • Do not get them started on the danger of same-sex forest fires!!

  • dingojack

    Remember boys, if you’re gonna have sex, anally penetrate a brown bear in a funny hat first – because only Smokey the Bear can prevent forest fires

    (or sumpt’n).


  • andrewjohnston

    The goal of abstinance-only “education”, however, is not to prevent teen pregnancy. In their minds, that’s just a by-produce of their real goal: Telling teens not to have sex.

    You’re not that far off. I’ve heard advocates say that even if abstinence-only is 100% ineffective, we should still teach it because it’s more “respectful.” Comprehensive sex ed treats kids like animals, y’see. I’m not sure how “respect” gels with the falsehoods that appear in the materials for every abstinence-only program, but there you have it.

  • jesse

    I think the biggest issue they have — leaving the analogies aside for a bit — is simply that it empowers women and girls.

    On the Story Collider, there was a piece done by Meghan Groome

    about sex-ed in a place where it was screamingly obvious that it was necessary. But the interesting thing here to me is that any sex-ed can empower girls to say no, to insist on condom use, to just plain understand that sex and relationships are nothing like the movies or what kids “know.”

    I’m not only for comprehensive sex-ed, but for a class or two that is sex-segregated, where the kids can ask anything they need to know. It would be a great myth debunking thing, rather than the silly after-school specials that we got (though to be fair the sex-ed class in junior high was largely OK, when I think about it, it at least covered the important stuff — AIDS wasn’t on the radar then, though).

  • oranje

    dingojack says:

    “Remember boys, if you’re gonna have sex, anally penetrate a brown bear in a funny hat first – because only Smokey the Bear can prevent forest fires (or sumpt’n).”

    I passed one of the fire danger signs with Smokey on it today. It said he was “high.”

  • dean

    … careless (sexual) “fires”

    Apparently they just heard one of Bob Seger’s lesser (IMO) songs.

  • typecaster

    It hasn’t occurred to them the only way abstinence will work is if everybody suddenly becomes asexual.

    One way to do that is to take all the fun out of it. A disturbing little comment in 1984 was that the State was working on a project to eliminate the orgasm. And, as has been repeatedly noted, these folks do seem to think that 1984 is a how-to guide.

  • dingojack

    oranje – isn’t Colorado the ‘mile high’ state?

    OMG Smokey was having prematiral sex in plane (wearing a dozen condoms) whilst smoking a bong, lit with matches !!elevemty!1!


  • abb3w

    @6, andrewjohnston:

    Wouldn’t the condom be more analogous to a fire extinguisher?

    Condoms are more like the ring of rocks and careful clearing of flammable debris around a Scout fire pit. The massive quantities of hormones being dumped into teenagers by their biology would correspond somewhat to summer thunderstorms generating lightning strikes. The “Plan B” pill seem probably more akin to a fire extinguisher; though it might be “parents coming back home early” serves the role closer, depending on what angle you’re taking.

    It doesn’t seem an inherently bad analogy; FoF just seem to be confusing what function a condom actually plays… and thus, come to the wrong conclusions.

    I’m still not sure what would be a good analog for matches, though. Flowers and a bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill?

  • sunzad

    I taught my son how to camp safely using fire as a tool to cook, stay warm and survive. I also taught my son how to use a gun. Trigger awareness, cleaning and storage are basic elements of gun education. So to education as regards to his sexual health is of just as valid. All this education took place before he was 13.

  • Blondin

    Maybe they could just teach the kids to abstain from sex during fire bans.

  • savagemutt

    I passed one of the fire danger signs with Smokey on it today. It said he was “high.”

    Sometimes he’s even “extreme”. I bet he drinks a lot of Mountain Dew.

  • Sastra

    Oooo, Focus on the Family has just made a big mistake. Because they used this analogy, now they’re going to make teenagers think that premarital sex is hot!!111!!!1! They’re going to set them on fire and make them burn with passion!!

    Way to go.

  • Taz

    The analogy works to the extent that if you discover teenagers just starting to have sex, spraying them with a fire hose will prevent pregnancy.

  • D. C. Sessions

    It’s a terrible analogy, of course, because even if you do try to prevent forest fires — as you obviously should

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

    No, you fucking well should NOT prevent forest fires — at least not in the “Smokey the Bear” sense of smothering every spark. We did that for damn near a century, and the legacy of that gave us names like “Rodeo Chedeski,” “Wallow,” and “Waldo Canyon.”

    Healthy forests depend on frequent fires that keep undergrowth clear and small trees from choking out the forest and sucking up so much water that the mature trees are overstressed for lack of it. And, of course, they keep the ladder fuel from accumulating to the point that you get monster fires that destroy thousands of square miles of forest.

    I live in Arizona, spend a good bit of time in the mountains where we’ve had all those fires lately, and am right now at my new place in New Mexico where we’ve already had several days this year covered in smoke from Baldy and Ruidoso.

    You can make your own sexual analogy from the facts; I can see several.

  • And comprehensive sex education includes teaching that abstinence is the only 100% effective way to avoid negative consequences.

    See, this is the part where you misunderstand them. They want there to be negative consequences for sex outside of marriage. If people can just go around sleeping with whomever they want then it contradicts their meme of God creating sex only for people who have said the Magic Words in front of one of God’s representatives on earth.

  • shockna

    With respect to the fire analogy, I view it more as teaching a class of pyromaniacs how to enjoy fire without causing destruction.

    Everyone starts out with a torch, but you give them water so they can put it out before it hurts anyone. Sure, some will leave the bucket at home and others will use it improperly, but there’ll be a lot less harm in it than denying reality and telling them to resist a natural urge.

    Perhaps a faulty analogy, and if anyone detects a problem, by all means do correct it for me.

  • wpjoe

    @jessee “I think the biggest issue they have … is simply that it empowers women and girls. ”

    As a scientist who works on STDs, I have always found it amazing that xians pushed bills that do so much harm to girls and women, keeping girls ignorant with the abstinence-only sex-ed and preventing safe abortions. How many girls will get HIV due to their policies? How many will become infertile due to STDs? But recently I have come to realize that a major purpose of xianity is to control the sex-lives of women. It is the only way these policies make sense. Xians are against condoms and abortions because these take away some of the consequences for women having sex.

    As who is on fire, just check out the STD rates. It’s 15-19 yr old women and 20-24 yr old men. Abstinence-only sex-ed will only increase these fires.

  • lofgren

    I learned how to build cook fires in the Boy Scouts.

    Now I am a convicted arsonist doing thirty consecutive life sentences.

    If only I had never been taught about fires, and learned about them on the playground like a decent child, I never would have experimented with flames, and then all those orphans would still be alive.

    Please don’t teach other kids about fire, or else they will become insane arsonists, too.

    True story.

  • captstormfield

    abb3w: “The massive quantities of hormones being dumped into teenagers by their biology…”

    And who’s been in charge of biology since American Morality began to decline? Evolutionists of course! Yes, yes, I see their diabolical plans emerging now…

  • neilprescott

    “Wouldn’t we all agree that it’s better to prevent a forest fire, if and when possible, than treat the immense damage in its aftermath?”

    If sex is the fire in this analogy, then condoms are the fire pit. The one I’ve used hundreds of times without setting fire to the forest.

    I think it may be a good idea to inform all people of these fire pits, so they don’t set fire to the forest when they inevitably attempt to cook something.

    For fucks sake.

  • katie

    This analogy really only works if, at a certain age, trees get curious and start playing with matches themselves anyways.

  • andre3

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a group of Boy Scouts all together in the forest with one man as their scout leader who teaches them all about camp fires and helps them start their first fires. I’ve even seen Cub Scouts camping like this.

    Am I getting this analogy correct? This is how Focus wants boys to have their first “fire” experience right? At least they won’t have to worry about pregnancy forest fires with the scout master there.

  • elizabethostwald

    Even if you agree with the analogy, the logic still makes no sense. Abstinence advocates believe that at some point these kids will get married (presumably to someone of the opposite sex) and make fires in the warmth and safety of their own fireplace. But they won’t know the first thing about it. It’s not like everything one learns in high school is applicable immediately.