As many of us can probably appreciate, there are a bunch of fallacious "lay" theories floating around in the world. For example, when HIV first reared its ugly head, many quickly assumed that the disease affected only homosexual men. Today, we understand that everybody is susceptible to HIV and AIDS.

But people are slow to reject such lay theories, especially if the truth is counterintuitive. People are psychologically motivated to protect belief structures, especially when belief structures are ingrained. Consequently, communication pundits suggest a systematic approach to repudiate deeply rooted misperceptions. This systematic approach is called a "transformative explanation."

Transformative explanations can be broken down into 5 steps:

1) Acknowledge the counterproductive lay theory.
2) Explain the lay theory's plausibility.
3) Demonstrate the lay theory's inadequacy.
4) Convey accepted scientific understanding.
5) Reinforce this understanding.

Now that we've established how to construct a transformative explanation, it's useful to run through an example while delineating each of the 5 steps:

1) Acknowledge the counterproductive lay theory: Vaginal intercourse (hereafter refered to as "sex") during a normal pregnancy will hurt the "baby."
2) Explain the lay theory's plausibility: People suppose that an erect penis thrust towards the cervix and uterus can physically harm (poke) the fetus.  Additionally, people think that the quivering during an orgasm may crescendo into preterm labor and result in a miscarriage.
3) Demonstrate the lay theory's inadequacy: The baby is protected from the erect penis by a plug in the cervix and amniotic fluid which fills the uterus. Furthermore, although uterine contractions can occur during an orgasm, they're different from the uterine contractions that occur during labor.
4) Convey accepted scientific understanding: Sex during a normal pregnancy is safe. (Additionally, it can be quite enjoyable.)
5) Reinforce this understanding: Because the baby is protected from the outside world (including erect penises) sex during pregnancy doesn't hurt the baby. Furthermore, even the biggest, mind-blowing orgasm won't cause preterm delivery.

I learned about transformative explanations while I was a journalism graduate student. It's too bad that I wasn't taught about them during medical school because I think they could help physicians describe counterintuitive advice to their patients. (For example, physicians could explain to patients wary of the Human Papillomavirus vaccine that everybody, not only the sexually promiscuous, runs the risk of getting genital warts.)

Personally, transformative explanations serve as inspiration for much of my writing. Oftentimes, targeting people's misconceptions makes for newsworthy stories. Additionally, transformative explanations provide a structure for clear and persuasive writing.

So I encourage all of you to appreciate the power of transformative explanations when you're trying to explain difficult to appreciate concepts to your friends, students and peers. And enjoy sex during a normal pregnancy. Just remember that unless you're in a committed and monogamous relationship, use a condom. (Sexually transmitted infections can hurt both you and the fetus!)

Feel free to comment; I encourage all responses.

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