Utah Sex Education Laws: Is Optional an Option?

I find it rather ironic that in the education system we have a comprehensive drug and alcohol education program from elementary school age yet the need for sex education is still up for debate.

Here’s the reality: Teens DO HAVE SEX.

A study published this year shows that 13% of US teens have had sex by age 15. By their 19th birthday, 7 in 10 teens have had intercourse.

With that background, let me introduce HB 363 in the Utah Legislation this year. This bill aims to make major changes to the way Sex Education will be taught in Utah schools, including making it optional for entire school districts to opt out.

I would like to first talk about what the law currently states, then what this bill would change, and finally what the research shows.

Utah Sex Education Laws

Currently, the following may not be taught in Utah public schools:

(1) intricacies of intercourse or erotic behavior
(2) advocacy of homosexuality
(3) advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices
(4) advocacy of sexual activity outside of marriage.

Furthermore, the current law already allows any parent to have their child exempt from attending any Sexual Education class, and requires schools to obtain written permission for a child to attend the class.

These laws prohibit educators from recommending or supporting student’s use of condoms, the pill, or spermicides. It also makes it unlawful for school counselors or teachers to be supportive of a student who is gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual or even students who are heterosexual and sexually active. This can cause further emotional stress and trauma on an already marginalized group of youth.

Proposed Utah Sex Education Bill

The proposed sex education law HB 363 will make three major changes to the current law.

First, it would remove the state requirement for districts to teach sex education. This means students in some districts may not receive ANY form of sexual education, including maturation classes

Second, the current curriculum allows discussion of “abstinence over other methods in preventing sexually transmitted diseases.” It allows discussion of “contraception and condom use.” As long as it is not advocated, it can be mentioned in class. The proposed law will prohibit discussions about the intricacies of intercourse, homosexuality, contraceptive methods or devices.

This means teens in Utah could conceivably make it through high school and NEVER be aware that condoms exist ( that is assuming they aren’t taught it at home). This could further marginalize youth who are sexually active and those who are not heterosexual.

The third change this bill proposes is to prevent teachers from responding to “spontaneous questions raised by students” if the topic is not approved. Meaning, if this law is passed, even if a teenager is having sex and wants to use a condom, they will still not be able to get  information at school.

Uninformed teens can lead to unintended pregnancies.

The Utah Department of Health recently reported that nearly 70 percent of Utah births to teen mothers were unintended – accounting for 17,400 babies between 2004 and 2008. Here are some of the stats from an article that recently ran in the Salt Lake Tribune:

  • Half of Utah teens weren’t using contraception — 53 percent vs. 50 percent nationally.
  • 49 percent of teens ages 15-17 in Utah thought they couldn’t get pregnant at the time, compared to 35 percent nationwide.
  • 21 percent of teens in Utah said they had trouble getting birth control, compared to 13 percent across the country.
  • And among the youngest teens, ages 15 to 17, nearly 24 percent of Utah teens thought they or their partner was sterile, a rate three times higher than the rest of the country.

Unintended pregnancy has been shown to contribute to more abortions, postpartum depression, inadequate prenatal care, FAS and depression in parents. If passed, this law WILL create more unintended pregnancies.

So what do the experts say?

Studies and data about abstinence only sex education can be easily misunderstood. I read over 15 studies on this subject and of them only 5 that I found were original sound research, published in respected professional journals, and less than five years old.

This is what I found: the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services hired an outside group to study the effectiveness of abstinence only education programs. After years of research they found that there was NO difference between abstinence only programs and non-abstinence only program recipients in the number of sexual partners, frequency of sexual activity, or rates of unprotected sex.

Similar results were found by three different groups who found that: “abstinence only education correlated with unchanged or increased incidence of unintended pregnancy.” In fact, only 1 of the 5 found different results, reporting that abstinence-only education recipients delayed sexual initiation more than safer-sex recipients.

Bottom line, is sex education needed in Utah and should it be optional? What are your thoughts?

About michaelkjohnson

I have been working here at Youth Services since 2008. I started working with the little kids at Christmas Box House and now supervise the Outreach and Drug Prevention team. When not busy runing around the valley and spreading the word about what we do around here I am found playing at the park with my dog, camping, or planning my next jet-setting adventure
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2 Responses to Utah Sex Education Laws: Is Optional an Option?

  1. AJourney says:

    I have conducted a good deal of research on the subject of sex education myself, and I can say with absolute confidence that comprehensive sex education is a necessity in Utah. Not only has a wealth of valid, reliable, quality research published in peer-reviewed, scholarly journals proven abstinence-only sex education to be ineffective at reducing teen sexual activity, rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection; but SIECUS-designed comprehensive sex education programs include thorough discussions of abstinence as an effective means to reduce these negative outcomes. However, unlike abstinence-based programs, comprehensive programs ALSO include factually correct information about sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, contraception, relationship skills, decision-making skills, and how youth of all ages can protect themselves against sexual coercion and aggression. This is not a debate. The evidence clearly points to the right choice. Lawmakers’ blatant refusal to make that choice, ignoring all evidence that contradicts their emotion-based opinions, puts our children in danger. It is as simple as that.

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