Robertson family patriarch takes the familiar and all too easy approach of blaming STDs on immorality. Here’s why Phil’s wrong.

A colleague shared an MSNBC article about a CNS News story where Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson weighs in on what he sees as the root cause driving sexually transmitted diseases: a lack of biblically-correct sex!

Let’s simply allow the man to lay it all out for you, er, that is to put it in his own words. Referring to an STD-free, monogamous heterosexual couple he opined thusly:

“Those two will never have a sexually transmitted disease. You know why? They keep the sex between the two of them….biblically-correct sex is safe.”

He lays out the logical foundation of his argument regarding this hypothetical couple: “You’re not going to get chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, AIDS, if a man marries a woman and neither one of you have it, and you keep your sex between the two of you, you’re not going to get EVER a sexually transmitted disease.” (Phil does allow that an out-of-left field exposure such as a tainted blood transfusion could still expose the couple.)

It’s been years since I had a chance to formally use the skills acquired in my critical thinking class so I’m proud to construct Phil’s syllogism for you:

What’s a bit exasperating is that the simple logic does stand up when presented with a hypothetical couple on paper, of course. That’s also the problem: these matters really aren’t that simple and treating them this way ignores the flesh and blood, real-world complexities of human desire and biology. It’s just too easy to claim that STDs are the result of hedonistic lifestyles of promiscuity; the fact is STDs are so common that even those with a single partner are at risk. Add social determinants to the mix (lack of access to health care, poverty, and simply residing in a community where STDs are very common) and we begin to see that risk reduction requires more than a wagged finger and sharp tongue admonishing us to exert a little more self-control.

We humans have sex. Lots of it. Always have and always will. Pick your era, pick your culture: from the most sexually-repressed, tightly controlled Puritanical age you can find to a Saturday night in Haight- Ashbury in 1969 after a Jimi Hendrix/Stones double bill, you’ll find people gettin’ busy. Condemn it, attempt to contain it, legislate against it all you want, but nature wins out and when we come of age we get curious about our bodies, sex and pleasure, and we begin to explore.

Phil is fighting against something of a phantom enemy, too. Sure there is plenty of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll imagery in modern society but 1) people discover and have sex regardless, thank you very much and 2) across the political/cultural spectrum almost NO ONE is actively encouraging people to “just have it” in a wild orgy of excess. In fact, while an organization like mine is certainly sex-affirming we also have initiatives to point out the dangers of having sex under the influence, to encourage mom’s and dad’s to talk to their kids so that parental values are well communicated, and to inform teens that it’s OK if they resist peer pressure and choose not to have sex!

Where we differ with Phil is that we don’t believe sex is bad, we do our best to ditch the fire and brimstone judgment and we’re realistic enough to understand people (even teens) will do the deed no matter how much we may insist otherwise. It’s far better to have open (and calm and respectful) conversations and not demonize our natural impulse to have sex. We also need to give a shout out to the safer sex practices and contraception methods that we’re so fortunate to have in our modern world and realize that condoms and the pill don’t encourage sex; they only serve to make it safer.
I’m not going to yell at Phil or call him names. We all do too much of that. He’ll probably never believe me, but I’ll end by pointing out the sad irony of his thinking: opinions like his actually fuel the STD epidemic and create more of exactly what he wants to avoid.

—Fred Wyand

Join us for a discussion of Dr. Tang’s new book, It’s Not Hysteria Everything You Need to Know About Your Reproductive Health (but Were Never Told), and ask Dr. Tang your questions about reproductive health!