Utah’s modern sex education curriculum dates back to 1988, when Senator Frances Farley, a Democrat, introduced the idea of promoting abstinence into the core curriculum. At the time, Farley was reacting to the AIDS crisis where people were getting sick and dying daily with no end in sight. Abstinence, or maintaining a monogamous relationship (preferably inside the bonds of a marriage), was seen as the only reasonable way to prevent the spread of the disease.
We have learned a lot since then, but one thing the State of Utah seemed to have let slip over the past 28 years is that sex education is an important way to give teens the tools they need to make smart and informed decisions.
[pullquote]At best, Utah’s sex education is ineffective. Representative King wants to make sex ed comprehensive, honest, and effective – which turn out to be the bills three biggest hurdles.[/pullquote]Over the years, however, the curriculum drifted away from this ideology – preferring instead to adopt an abstinence-only stance that strongly discourages discussion of contraception (something only to be discussed when a student asks about it – and even then a teacher must place an emphasis on abstinence), does not allow teachers to talk about the intricacies of intercourse, is unable to talk about homosexuality, and can not discuss sex outside of marriage.
The irony is that, though Utah’s law came specifically in an attempt to curb a (horrific) STD, its current form may actually be helping to spread disease. Abstinence programs have been shown to be no more effective at increasing the age of first sexual contact, decreasing the number of sexual partners a teen may have, preventing pregnancy, or the number of reported STD diagnoses when compared to other groups. However, youth who receive abstinence-oriented educations are more likely to not know the role of contraception (particularly condoms) in the prevention of spreading disease. Utah’s particular brand of explicitly ignoring homosexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation also has a detriment on LGBT youth, who account for two-thirds of new HIV or syphilis infections among men aged 13-29 or are more likely to become pregnant or contract an STD among women.
It is also worth noting that a majority of Utahns do not agree with this method of sex education. When asked, they prefer at least some discussion about contraception.
Enter Representative Brian King’s (Democrat – Salt Lake City) HB 246 – Reproductive Health Amendments.
First and foremost, the legislation would call for comprehensive sex education, not just abstinence. But it doesn’t stop there. The bill also specifies instruction related to physical, social, and emotional changes teens go through during puberty, discusses sexual harassment, how to respond when someone feels uncomfortable or unsafe, how drugs and alcohol can lead to impairment, and how to prevent early pregnancy and the spread of STD’s.
In short, it is a realistic look at human sexuality that is designed to give young adults the tools they need to make good decisions. It isn’t just “don’t have sex” it is “if you are going to have sex, be safe and responsible.”
Of course, it is this last point that is the most difficult for some to overcome. There are some (particularly those that fill the Utah State Capitol) that believe that if you don’t talk about sex, at all, it won’t happen. But, as the Salt Lake Tribune recently pointed out in an editorial, this is a belief held by people who simply are unable to remember what it was like to be filled with more hormones than common sense. It also ignores basic biology and evolution – after all, 100,000 years ago (or even 6,000 years ago), most people were not expected to live past 30.
Though we realise that for the average Utahn, this means that they would have been in a marriage for seven years, it doesn’t discount the fact that millennia ago, the basic laws of survival of the fittest dictated that you needed to become pregnant or impregnate someone by the time you hit 15 if the species had any chance for survival.
But the bill has several things against it: it deals with human sexuality honestly, it is proposed by a Democrat, and it portions of it have the support of the public. Though King’s bill would go far to prevent pregnancy out of wedlock and reduce taxpayer burden by way of not having to pay for STD treatments for underprivileged youth, don’t hold your breath.
To contact Representative King, click here or call 801-560-0769 (Cell).
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