Magical Thinking and Pregnancy Prevention

Pat Paluzzi, DrPH

“Magical thinking” is a type of causal reasoning or causal fallacy that looks for meaningful relationships of grouped phenomena between acts and events. Those of us who work in the field of teen and unplanned pregnancy prevention are quite familiar with the concept of magical thinking as it relates to our work.  Sexually active teens and young adults know something about sex and contraception, but less than they think they know and so they underestimate the risks of unprotected sex and the U.S. continues to lead the world in teen pregnancies.

It is understandable that teens—and even some young adults—might not have all of the knowledge they need to prevent unintended pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections.  Let’s face it, medically accurate, comprehensive sex ed is not available to most youth in this country.

But magical thinking on the part of our lawmakers is ludicrous, and dangerous.  If you spend a few minutes—and I mean just a few—tracking the line of reasoning supported by Todd Akin and others (our bodies will protect us from pregnancy during ‘legitimate’ rape –just as an aside, can anyone tell me what ‘illegitimate’ rape is?), you see  the above definition of magical thinking at work. Akin and those who think like him have attempted to create a reason to ban all abortion—even in the case of rape—by grouping together various scientific phenomena to make their case. For example, it is true that ovulation, implantation, etc. are chemically driven complex functions and it is true that stress causes a set of chemical reactions in our bodies—but fact 1 plus fact 2 does not equal ludicrous statement 3, even if sprinkled with fairy dust.

Perhaps this case of magical thinking does more to support the need for comprehensive sex ed than anything else we’ve had to offer.  Certainly we want those who attempt to legislate our bodies to at least have their facts right.

I suggest that every legislator be required to take a medically accurate, comprehensive sex ed class before being able to weigh in on such topics.  Healthy Teen Network would be glad to develop and offer such a class, and at a good price!  What do you think? Would your legislators attend?

Pat Paluzzi, DrPH, is President/CEO of Healthy Teen Network.

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