Utah sex education too one-sided

By By Matt Plummer

By Matt Plummer

Orrin Hatch, a powerhouse member of the United States Senate, recently proposed an abstinence-only amendment to the health care reform bill: the America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009, submitted by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Md. The amendment is a small part of massive reform discussions but has far-reaching effects. Even if it fails to wiggle its way into the bill’s final draft8212;which it probably will8212;it certainly reflects something negative about Utah’s sex education. Granted, abstinence education is a preferable path for teaching young people, but to completely eliminate a broader view of sex education is misguided.

Reports by Advocates for Youth said that 15- to 24-year-olds make up nearly 50 percent of people with new sexually transmitted infections. The same reports said almost 15 percent of the 56,000 new reported cases of HIV every year are in the 13-to-24 demographic. In addition, there are 42.5 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 to 19 every year. These facts alone justify a more comprehensive approach to sex education.

Sex education must not only cover safe-sex methods such as condom use and birth control8212;which Utah instructors cannot advocate or encourage8212;but also the negative results sex can bring. My high school in Missouri showed a slideshow of graphic images of STDs. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen; seven years later, it still gives me the chills. Utah allows this same method because it focuses on STDs. Whether this was a scared-abstinent program or a purely educational presentation doesn’t matter8212;it makes an impression, and an effective one. Still, scare tactics can’t be the sole foundation for Utah’s sex education.

Sex education should also include a morality component of relationship or marriage. The Utah code of statutes title 53A chapter 13 highlights “the importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage as methods for preventing certain communicable diseases; and personal skills that encourage individual choice of abstinence and fidelity.”

This method of teaching abstinence doesn’t exactly encourage a morality component because it stresses abstinence as a way to prevent STDs instead of the role that sex and marriage play in actual lives.

There can be a middle ground between sex education and abstinence education. The Advocates for Youth organization said on its website, “Evaluations of comprehensive sex education programs show that these programs can help youth delay onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use.” Abstinence can manifest itself through sex education, and it should. But it shouldn’t be the only method.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy said in a January 2009 publication, “There is now persuasive and growing evidence that a limited number of programs that include abstinence messages and that also give complete and accurate information about contraception can delay sexual activity, improve contraceptive use among sexually active teens, and/or prevent teen pregnancy.”

According to the Utah Department of Health, in 2007 there were a total of 2,721 births to unmarried women age 15 to 19 in Utah. There were 26 births to unmarried women under age 15.

Whether somebody believes sex is for procreation only, an act between two people in love or just a pleasurable casual activity, knowing all the facts can’t hurt. Parents who are finicky about what their kids are learning in school are always a sticking point, and to that end, sex education in schools should not be mandatory. It is a family issue and parents should have the choice of allowing schools to teach their children or not. But those who want this education shouldn’t be crippled because of the objections of others.

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