Science Helps Sex… So Can Philosophy | Critical Thinking & Sexual Health

Nowadays scientists and activists promote scientific literacy in reproductive education programs to enhance the conversation of sex and gender. Objectivity seems to be the secret to sustainable sex. But, at what point does objective information such as the scientific need to be taken to the subjective level to use it in practice?

Research and data help us to understand the facts about human sexuality so we don’t have to rely solely on intuition to make decisions about our sex lives that could lead to long-term effects like disease or unwanted pregnancy. At the same time, we use the same data to promote sexual longevity in disease prevention and orgasmic pleasure. Without these objective controls, we wouldn’t be able to avoid the grief that goes with poor sexual health or even has fMRI machines to verify the complex biology of female orgasms. Eliminating those hardships through scientific advances like birth control and fMRI data allows us to focus on what really fulfills us on a personal level.

Science offers us the information, but how do we apply it?

Analyzing, synthesizing, and applying information to problem solve—whether it be promoting adequate medical care for transgendered sexual health or finding out where to buy the best menstruation product for your budget and personal preferences—is actually the definition of critical thinking.

Maybe it sounds boring, like math. And it’s true, critical thinking is taught mostly in college as an introductory course for philosophy majors, but like math, people use critical thinking every day and everywhere; and wouldn’t you argue that the tools for critical thinking should be just as high on the priority list as data and statistics in terms of sex education?

For example, inventions like Thinx underwear needed the use of critical inquiry to create and sustain the product to make it matter to women. It’s not easy to create absorbent period underwear AND figure out how to make it look sexy. Those old-school philosophers didn’t even know what they were setting the stage for by refining critical thinking techniques in logic books that professors now teach in universities.  

And let’s not pretend like we don’t critically think when we’re trying to court a potential significant other. People in love are more attentive to details about their beloved according to neuroimaging data, which makes gathering information about them and applying it to make them your lover that much easier!

Argument and analyzing is something that begins early. Even children participate in arguments about things like their bedtimes. Analyzing how to get what we want starts young. Adolescents already engage in higher level rational cognitive processes that moderate impulses and emotions to regulate detrimental life choices, like critical thinking, which can also form an identity. The older one gets, the more developed their rationality becomes, which leads to mature decision-making. “SexEd” programs kids and young adults are backed by scientific literature (hopefully!) because educators recognize adolescents can engage with rational conversation in addition to their new sexual feelings and body changes.

Sexual health is important to prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancy, but we all know that “SexEd” programs may not have a process that is as in-depth as our sexual experience and desires. So, if critical thinking should be applied anywhere, it should be applied in our education programs—not just in religion and politics. This way, kids (and adults) can push for more studies and products that tailor to individual needs in the complexity of our society’s diverse personal and sex lives.

A longitudinal study done in South Africa showed that those who fare better in school (which teaches and prioritizes critical thinking) are more likely to use a condom during sex, reported by the World Health Organization.  WHO also reported a comparative analysis that found West African girls who stay on track with their education drop out less for reasons of pregnancy or child marriage. There is even evidence to show that literacy skills (which includes synthesizing information from reading material) among individuals in places such as Ghana, Nepal, and South Africa improve fertility later in life and optimal child health outcomes, presumably due to the ability to help individuals look at information informatively to make good health decisions later in life. People are even using critical thinking to combat negative effects of media.

Critical thinking, like science, can hopefully promote healthy ways of sexual health and knowledge appeal while preventing the unhealthy uncontrollable cognitive effects that can sometimes go with passion and love. But we won’t know until we critically analyze the priorities of our studies to be more sex and love-centered.

Eventually, the powers of critical thinking and scientific inquiry should be so prioritized in a society that superior solutions can come around faster in the fight for reproductive health freedom that we know we deserve as a growing population in numbers and diversity.

Put simply, proper education and critical thinking are key, so the tools to achieve both should be as readily available as possible.


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Critical Thinking. The University of Tennessee Chattanooga.

Klaczynski, et al. “Adolescent Identity: Rational vs. Experiential Processing, Formal Operations, and Critically Thinking Beliefs.”

World Health Organization.

Grant M, Hallman K. Pregnancy-related school dropout and prior school performance in South Africa. New York: Population Council, 2006 (Policy Research Division Working Paper No. 212).

Marteleto L, Lam D, Ranchhod V. Sexual behavior, childbearing and schooling in urban South Africa. Paper presented at IUSSP Seminar on Sexual and Reproductive Transitions of Adolescents in Developing Countries, 6-9 November, Cholula, Mexico; 2006.

Lloyd CB, Mensch BS. Marriage and childbirth as factors in school exit: an analysis of DHS data from sub-Saharan Africa. New York: Population Council; 2006 (Policy Research Division Working Paper No. 219).

Glewwe P. Why does mother’s schooling raise child health in developing countries? Evidence from Morocco. The Journal of Human Resources 1999; 34:124-159

LeVine RA, LeVine SE, Rowe ML, Schnell-Anzola B. Maternal literacy and health behavior: a Nepalese case study. Social Science and Medicine 2004; 58:863-877

Schalet, Amy, Santelli, John S. Russell, Stephen T. Halpbern.  Invited Commentary: Broadening the Evidence for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Education in the United States




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