Question from a reader:
“I often see groups in the media proposing the idea that sex addiction is rampant, that pregnancy rates are rising, and that generally speaking people are having sex at increasingly young ages, but are these facts? One such group to recently promote this fear based perspective was the Family Research Council on 20/20. From what I have read, people are actually getting married later, having their first sexual experiences later, and are having fewer children at an earlier age, but that doesn’t seem to be the message that is coming across.”
This question inspired my sometimes odd brain to flash blind mice … or more accurately, 3 intoxicated blind mice swerving and bumping into marketing spin. Raising the questions, “Who do we believe?” and “How can we decipher the credibility of “information”?” are vital and urgent questions for Americans today.
The 20/20 show that aired summer ‘08 on Sex in America featured voices of “experts”. It was kind of like the dating game … “Will the real expert please stand up!” If you didn’t know whose opinion was grounded in solid research, you certainly got that these “experts” were describing divergent pictures of the state of sex in America. The Family Research Council has a clear mission and agenda. From the mission statement and the history sections of their website you learn that their agenda is driven by a very particular fundamental Christian faith and political perspective. (This is one type of Christian faith perspective. There are many people who claim a deep Christian faith from a variety of denominations who do not adhere to this brand of “Christianity” or politics – for more info see speech by co-founder of Focus on the Family. This organization is a division of James Dobson’s organization Focus on the Family and it affiliates with a powerful political action committee (PAC) that forwards this same agenda – (www.frcaction.org). All “experts” who speak on behalf of this organization are agreeing to endorse and speak only this agenda. It will be biased yet packaged to be objective – we call this spin. Fear is a common tact used by this faction to persuade people to support their agenda. And unfortunately due to our history, sexuality is a vulnerable target of fear. To support their agenda they do not reveal the range of research or thought on any particular issue. It claims to be about family values, research and council – but it is about a particular agenda – in this case a particular Fundamental Christian and political agenda. It is up to the reader to decide whether they concur with this agenda. But I would caution equating objective data with any “findings” from an organization established on driving a particular agenda.
If you want an accurate picture of sex statistics in America you must find those places where research is pulled from a variety of research centers and whose agenda is to report findings only, not to have those particular findings concur with a specific agenda. For example,
The Kinsey Institute and the Kaiser Family Foundation report findings. What these findings suggest are for you to decide. Journals like The Journal of Sex Research, Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, and The American Journal of Sexuality Education are all respected, highly scrutinized, academic journals that report findings based in sound research methodology. From here you can draw your own conclusions about what is happening in the area of sexuality in America.
Here are some ideas on how to decipher between agenda driven “findings” and soundly researched unbiased data –
1. Look at professional journals with peer reviewed research studies.
2. Know what journals are most respected and most rigorous in a particular field.
3. Read the reference list at the bottom of an article. Is there a broad range of highly respected journals, authors and books represented?
4. Look at 1 – 3 researched reports to get a wide picture of the average and range of what is being said.
5. If it is a professional journal with no agenda other than to publish sound researched findings in that field of study, then you can have more confidence that you are not being fed a paid agenda.
6. Look for articles that present all sides of an issue, are well researched and whose research cited is published in top professional journals. Here is an example of a web based article on abstinence only sex education programs. Examine the credibility of the references cited at the bottom of the article. Notice the range of angles represented. Go ahead and scrutinize other articles. Now you can draw your own conclusions. “Information” in media is all too often dressed to sound like “objective data”. But like a wolf in sheep’s clothing … is actually a well designed and marketed agenda being sold to a particular group of people – or market. Perhaps not realizing we are following another blind “expert” mouse, helps us ignore the butcher’s knife poised silently above our necks.
When I dare to remove my blindfold, I find myself asking, have we lost our desire to decipher what is agenda driven and what is objective data? What happened to our value in the Socratic Method? What happened to skills in critical thinking and ethical thought? The ancient Greeks identified the essence of critical consciousness when philosophers encouraged their students to develop a willingness to stand back from humanity and nature and become students of thought and criticism – to search for meaning and significance. It may be time to open our powers of curiosity and scrutiny … perhaps not take what is said at face value but see ideas in context, question what is being said and not said, what values or agendas are being supported and not supported, and examine all this through our personal lens of experience, values, meaning and significance. Then we can create our own informed conclusions.