205 Controversial Topics for your Essay, Speech, or Debate

controversial speech topics

Do you think social media platforms should censor politicians? No matter how important you feel this issue is relative to other issues of the day, you’re likely to have an opinion one way or the other. Why? Because it’s a controversial matter, and it immediately pushes some buttons in our brains.

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What makes issues like this so engaging?

Controversial topics have two features that almost instantly grab people’s attention. On one side, they are both simple and familiar, and so are understandable without any effort. On the other side, they touch on sensitive matters that society as a whole has not yet come to terms with. This makes them tickle our inherent desire for closure. We want to make up our minds once and for all!

So if you’re looking for such a topic for your essay, speech, or debate, you’ve come to the right place!

We’ve compiled a list of hundreds of controversial issues organized by subject matter (You can visit our page on how to write a persuasive controversial essay if you want to improve your base skills). Whether you’re trying to come up with a topic for your science, psychology, history class – or nearly any other topic! – you’re sure to find an issue below that will keep your audience engaged, and even stir up some discussion.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Controversial Topics

As mentioned earlier, picking a controversial topic almost guarantees that you’ll command your audience’s attention. But such issues have downsides too. We go over the advantages and disadvantages of hot-button issues to help you make the right choice for your essay, speech, or debate.

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Pros

  • Immediately engaging – Your readers or listeners are unlikely to doze off.
  • Easy to find information on – You won’t have to look far to find credible information on controversial issues.
  • Likely to keep you absorbed while researching – What’s interesting for your audience will probably keep boredom at bay for you too.

Cons

  • Too sensitive for some people – These issues often have a strong emotional charge and may even be taboo for some, causing awkward situations.
  • Hard to review all points – A huge debate has probably been raging on such topics, so it’s not so easy to cover all your bases and appear knowledgeable on the issue at hand.
  • Hard to wrap up – These matters are controversial for a reason. It may be hard to come to a satisfactory conclusion, whether you’re presenting or debating.

Interesting Controversial Topics by Field

Below, we’ve compiled a catalog of fascinating controversial topics by field. Keep in mind that many of these spill over from one category to another, so there is some overlap. Is climate change a political or scientific issue? There’s a controversial question for you!

Political Debate Topics

Controversy is where politics are born. There’s usually some point of disagreement about any matter related to public affairs – that’s why a politician’s main job is to debate and come to an agreement (ideally) on how to handle these issues. Or, as political scientist Harold Lasswell put it succinctly, politics is, “Who gets what, when, how.”

So political issues are controversial by definition. We’ve worked hard to provide you with the longest, most comprehensive list you’ll find anywhere, and any of these topics may be instantly captivating.

  1. Is democracy the best form of government?
  2. Should there be a minimum wage?
  3. Should the government intervene in the free market?
  4. Should the US government intervene in foreign affairs?
  5. Should there be term limits for US senators?
  6. Should the Electoral College be abolished in the US?
  7. Are there exceptions to the freedom of speech?
  8. Should hate speech be banned?
  9. Should the government ensure the protection of privacy?
  10. Is the gender pay gap real?
  11. Does institutional racism exist in the US?
  12. Is affirmative action helping or hurting?
  13. Is immigration helping or hurting the US?
  14. Should all illicit drugs be legalized?
  15. Should prostitution be legalized?
  16. Should abortion be banned?
  17. Should there be stricter gun control laws?
  18. Should automatic weapons be banned?
  19. Should military service be mandatory?
  20. Should water be a commodity or a human right?
  21. Should the government forgive all student debt?

Controversial Criminal Justice Topics

Is justice being served? Few things get under people’s skin as much as perceived injustices. We are more or less programmed to seek fairness both for ourselves and for others. That’s why, similar to political topics, criminal justice issues are naturally engaging.

Appropriate punishment is salient now especially in the US after years of debates and protests related to the killings of minorities like George Floyd, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice. More recently, the storming of the US Capitol, the role the President’s words had in inciting the perpetrators, and how liable they are when following their President’s words, are also hot-button issues. It’s hard to go wrong with a criminal justice topic.

  1. Is the death penalty ethical?
  2. Should people be jailed for drug-related offenses?
  3. Should police officers be charged for inappropriate use of force?
  4. Why are minorities disproportionately represented in the US prison population?
  5. Why does the US have the largest prison population in the world?
  6. Should mentally unstable people be charged with crimes?
  7. Should underage repeat offenders be tried as adults?
  8. Should there be more than 12 jurors in a jury?
  9. Should felons be allowed to vote?

Controversial Religious Topics

Religion is a sensitive issue everywhere. Since it often concerns people’s innermost beliefs and principles, it’s not difficult to capture your audience’s attention with a religious topic. But beware that it’s also very easy to offend someone if you’re not careful.

Take religious freedom, for example – a concept interpreted in very different ways by different people. When in 2012 a Christian baker in Colorado refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, was he exercising his religious freedom or discriminating against LGBTQ people?

  1. Is atheism a religion?
  2. Does religion do more harm than good?
  3. Should creationism be taught in schools?
  4. Should there be religious education in schools?
  5. Should religious symbols be banned from schools?
  6. Should schools’ curriculums consider religious points of view?
  7. Should public prayer be allowed in schools?
  8. Should religious institutions pay taxes?
  9. Are most religions inherently sexist?
  10. Is Buddhism more peaceful than other religions?

Controversial Topics for Teens

The teenage years are a transition period between childhood and adulthood, which causes a natural struggle between treating teens as children or adults. Can we hold teenagers accountable for crimes they committed? Or should their parents be responsible? Issues like this make a lively debate inevitable.

  1. Should we lower the voting age to 16?
  2. Should we lower the drinking age to 18?
  3. At what age should teens be allowed to date?
  4. At what age is it appropriate for teens to have sex?
  5. Should sex education be mandatory in school?
  6. Should teenage pregnancies be terminated?
  7. Should teens have access to birth control?
  8. Is cyberbullying as bad as real-life bullying?
  9. Is peer pressure good or bad?
  10. Does social media cause an increase in teenage suicide?
  11. Are beauty pageants harmful to teenagers’ self-esteem?
  12. Should teens be allowed to keep secrets from parents?
  13. Should energy drinks be banned for teenagers?
  14. Should mobile devices be banned at school?
  15. Is the school grading system effective?
  16. Should school uniforms be mandatory?
  17. Should teens be allowed to get tattoos?
  18. Should vaping be prohibited for teens?

Are you looking for more controversial topics for teens? Check out our other article where you can find 170+ controversial debate topics for teens, as well as the dos and don’ts when debating controversial topics.

Controversial Science Topics

Science has a very specific way of addressing controversies – by looking at evidence. When scientists disagree on something, they have to back their views with data and logical arguments. But scientific questions are often taken outside the realm of the experts and turn into social, political, or economic issues.

That’s why it’s important to be familiar with the concept of false equivalence – a fallacy in which a flawed or misleading argument is presented as equivalent to a sound and logical one. For instance, scientists have shown that the preponderance of evidence points to the reality of climate change. Media outlets and some politicians, however, sometimes present the issue as not settled. No matter whether climate change is real or not, saying that a politician’s opinion is as valid as a scientist’s – when we’re talking about that scientist’s field – is a false equivalence. Issues like that are bound to create a heated (pun intended) debate.

  1. Can scientists ever be objective?
  2. Should corporations fund research?
  3. Should science be optional in school?
  4. Why are women underrepresented in science?
  5. Is STEM education more valuable than training in humanities?
  6. Should cryptocurrencies be regulated?
  7. Should net neutrality be restored?
  8. Should robots have rights?
  9. Is AI a menace to humans?
  10. Is AI the next stage in evolution?
  11. Is technology helping or destroying Earth?
  12. Can renewable sources of energy replace fossil fuels?
  13. Is climate change a threat to humanity?
  14. Is cell phone radiation dangerous?
  15. Is climate change reversible?
  16. Should all cars be electric?
  17. Is nuclear energy safe?
  18. Does alien life exist?
  19. Could alien life have found Earth?
  20. Should humans try to colonize Mars?

Controversial Sports Topics

Professional sports hold a lot of potential to create controversy. Hardly a week goes by without some major sports issue making the news. Whether it’s deflated footballs, kneeling during the anthem, or equal pay for male and female athletes, sports topics usually carry an emotional charge as most people have a strong opinion one way or the other.

  1. Should performance-enhancing drugs be allowed in sports?
  2. Are professional athletes paid too much?
  3. Are professional athletes good role models?
  4. Should college athletes be paid beyond scholarships?
  5. Should college athletes be tested for drugs?
  6. Is dance a real sport?
  7. Is video gaming a real sport?
  8. Is bodybuilding a real sport?
  9. Is cheerleading a real sport?
  10. Should mixed martial arts be banned?
  11. Should women compete against men in sports?
  12. Should female athletes be paid the same as male athletes?
  13. Should transgender athletes who used to be male compete in women’s sports?
  14. Do the Olympics do more harm than good for the cities hosting them?
  15. Are professional sports too damaging to athletes’ health?
  16. Is American football too dangerous for athletes?
  17. Should athletes who kneel for the anthem be sanctioned?

Controversial Food Topics

Sharing a meal with others unites us, but our opinions on food often divide us. Why is one part of the world starving, while another struggles with obesity? Is famine a result of a shortage or a distribution problem? Questions about food are important for humanity, which makes them compelling topics for discussion.

  1. Are genetically modified foods dangerous?
  2. Should genetically modified foods be labeled?
  3. Is organic food better than regular food?
  4. Is fast food responsible for obesity?
  5. Is food waste unavoidable?
  6. Is organic farming sustainable?
  7. Is factory farming unsustainable?
  8. Is grass-fed beef better than corn-fed beef?
  9. Is palm oil production causing deforestation?
  10. Can biotech foods save us from hunger?
  11. Should butter be stored in the fridge?

Controversial Nutrition Topics

Nutrition is one of the most controversial scientific fields – dietary guidelines seem to be changing by the day. Is it OK to eat more than two eggs a day? Are carbs more unhealthy than fats? Issues like that are notoriously hard to resolve as even a carefully designed scientific study struggles to untangle the many factors that go into human health.

  1. Should we have nutrition classes in schools?
  2. Can a vegan diet help the environment?
  3. Is it healthier to be vegetarian?
  4. Is an all-meat diet healthy?
  5. Is dieting ever effective?
  6. Does fasting help or harm the body?
  7. Are gluten-free diets overhyped?
  8. Should we ban trans fat?
  9. Is sugar addictive?
  10. Are artificial sweeteners unhealthy?

Controversial Animal Topics

Bring up the practice of eating dog meat in some countries to a dog lover, and you’ll more than likely evoke a very strong reaction. But how is it different from eating other social and intelligent mammals, such as pigs? There are many unresolved animal issues that can make for a captivating paper or presentation.

  1. Should animals have the same rights as humans?
  2. Should animals be considered individuals?
  3. Do animals have emotions?
  4. Do animals have consciousness?
  5. Is animal testing ethical?
  6. Should the fur industry be restricted?
  7. Are zoos helping or hurting animals?
  8. Should there be animals in circuses?
  9. Should we try to reverse extinction?
  10. Are humans destroying animal habitats?
  11. Is selective dog breeding unethical?
  12. Should bullfighting be banned?
  13. Should whaling be banned?

Controversial Topics in Psychology

Many argue that psychology as a science is still in its infancy. There’s no consensus on a lot of the big questions related to people’s minds. Is there even a way to know what’s happening inside someone else’s head besides our own? A behaviorist would insist there isn’t.

  1. Is psychology a real science?
  2. Is depression a real disease?
  3. Are antidepressants effective?
  4. Is ADHD a real mental disorder?
  5. Is drug abuse a mental health issue?
  6. Is mental illness equivalent to physical illness?
  7. Should psychologists be allowed to prescribe drugs?
  8. Is prejudice against different people inherent?
  9. Is it ethical to “treat” homosexuality?
  10. Are social media sites addictive?
  11. Is social media connecting us or making us more isolated?
  12. Is pornography harmful to the psyche?
  13. Do video games cause violence?
  14. Is intelligence inherited?

Controversial Relationship Topics

Being in a romantic relationship involves constantly negotiating and renegotiating issues ranging from the most mundane to the most profound. On top of that, most adults are or have been part of a couple, making this a relatable and attention-grabbing subject.

  1. Is monogamy natural?
  2. Does divorce harm children?
  3. Should dating between co-workers be allowed?
  4. Should people date people much older than themselves?
  5. Is romantic love a prerequisite to marital satisfaction?
  6. Should arguments in a couple be avoided or encouraged?
  7. Should men and women have different functions in a relationship?
  8. Is it OK to keep secrets from your partner?
  9. Are long-distance relationships worth it?
  10. Is sex before marriage wrong?
  11. Is online dating good or bad?
  12. Are homosexual relationships natural?
  13. Should same-sex marriage be banned?
  14. Should LGBTQ people be allowed to adopt children?

Controversial Medical Topics

Health is arguably the most important thing for a person. So it’s no surprise that we take issues related to health and medicine very seriously. Is there any point in prolonging a dying patient’s pain through life support? Questions like this are hard to give a definitive answer to, making them potent discussion topics.

  1. Are vaccines safe?
  2. Is Covid-19 manmade?
  3. Should immunization be mandatory?
  4. Should euthanasia be allowed?
  5. Is alternative medicine any good?
  6. Should healthcare be free?
  7. Is obesity a disease?
  8. Is circumcision healthy?
  9. Is stem cell research ethical?
  10. How harshly should medical malpractice be punished?
  11. Should Big Pharma be banned from charging too much for life-saving drugs?
  12. Should prescription drug manufacturers be held responsible for the opioid crisis?
  13. Should cannabis be prescribed as medicine?
  14. Should surrogate pregnancy be allowed?
  15. Should we use gene-editing in humans?
  16. Should the sale of human organs be allowed?
  17. Should genetic screening of embryos be legal?

Controversial Topics in Nursing

If nurses are essential workers, why do they get paid so little? To get to the bottom of this, we need to go beyond the nursing profession and take a hard look at society as a whole. Besides, just like doctors, nurses face ethical dilemmas in their work every day, which creates a lot of room for debate.

  1. Are nurses compensated fairly?
  2. Should nurses’ shifts be shortened?
  3. Should nurses be allowed to prescribe drugs?
  4. Is the nursing profession better suited for women?
  5. Should nurses use artificial hydration and nutrition?
  6. Should nurses treat non-compliant patients?

Controversial Topics in Biology

Biology deals with nothing less than life itself! And what’s a more fascinating question than the origin of life? Although we seem to be far from deciphering this mystery, there are many other issues that both scientists and laypeople have good reason to debate.

  1. Is evolution up for debate?
  2. Did life emerge out of inorganic matter?
  3. Is there a viable alternative to the theory of evolution?
  4. How significant are the physiological differences between men and women?
  5. Is behavior determined by our genes or by our upbringing?
  6. Are there more than two genders?

Music Controversial Topics

If you’re a classical music lover, you’ll very likely scoff at the assertion that rock ‘n’ roll is the best musical genre. But who’s to say? Maybe someone will argue that there are objective measures of the quality of music. As with any issue that’s close to many people’s hearts, music can be an excellent topic for discussion.

  1. Is music getting worse over time?
  2. Is the pursuit of profit ruining music?
  3. Do music streaming services such as Spotify help or harm musical artists?
  4. Are violent or explicit lyrics harmful to society?
  5. Are rock stars a bad influence on children?
  6. Are The Beatles overrated?

Controversial Art Topics

Do you think Banksy will go down in history as one of the great artists, or do you see his works as cheap stunts? Either way, you’ll probably agree that art has changed almost beyond recognition since the time of Rembrandt. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is just one topic worth exploring.

  1. Is the value of art subjective?
  2. Should explicit art be censored?
  3. Who decides what constitutes art?
  4. Should an art piece always carry a message?
  5. Is contemporary art as good as classical art?
  6. Should any topic be out of bounds for art?

Controversial History Topics

Hardly anyone would disagree that we should learn from history to avoid making the same mistake twice. But what exactly are history’s lessons is up for debate, and so make for great discussion topics.

  1. Are the two World Wars responsible for the relative state of peace since?
  2. Should the US pay reparations to African Americans because of slavery?
  3. Should Confederate statues in the US be taken down?
  4. Was Christopher Columbus a hero or a villain?
  5. Was the French Revolution inevitable?
  6. Is history always written by the victors?
  7. Is history bound to be repeated?

Funny Controversial Topics

Are cats better pets than dogs? Does pineapple belong on a pizza? These are the kind of age-old debates we look into in our Funny Controversial Topics page.

Cite this article as: dev, "205 Controversial Topics for your Essay, Speech, or Debate," in My Speech Class, December 19, 2016, https://www.myspeechclass.com/controversial-speech-topics.html.