Sex Education Restrictions in Utah Public Schools

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Sex education in Utah public schools is heavily restricted by legislature. Current law states that it may only be provided if it does not include or advocate for:

  • Intricacies of intercourse
  • Sexual stimulation (including oral & manual)
  • Erotic behavior
  • Homosexuality (LGBTQ issues)
  • Extra/premarital sexual activity
  • Contraceptive use

Many school districts have instructed health professionals to maintain a modest approach to sexual topics, restricting lessons to physiological maturation and hygiene. Comprehensive sex education may only be done for private associations. These groups have demonstrated decreases in sexually transmitted infections and unintended teen pregnancies, but involve a very small number of Utah teens.

Despite evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and the Sexuality Information and Education Council that comprehensive sex education is more effective than abstinence-only, Utah shows no inclination to broaden its approach. In 2012, a bill to ban non-abstinence-only education and encourage the removal of all sex education from school passed the Utah House and Senate, before being vetoed by Governor Herbert.

Conservative guidelines are encouraged by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS/Mormon), and special interest groups like the Utah Eagle Forum.

The outcome of these restrictions is an unintended teen pregnancy national ranking between 16-19th for the past 15 years, and incidence increases of chlamydia (17%), gonorrhea (122%), and syphilis (91%) in the past year. Utah also struggles with LGBTQ teen bullying and suicide rates, possibly associated with lack of education and support for LGBTQ issues.

Implementation of comprehensive sex education in Utah schools may decrease the aforementioned difficulties the state faces in regards to sex and sexuality. Action can be taken by contacting legislators to encourage them to draft bills advocating for teens’ educational right to realistic sexual safety, and by signing associated petitions.

News Footage: sex ed restrictions passed Utah House & Senate

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3 Responses to “Sex Education Restrictions in Utah Public Schools”

  1. roxdupuis Says:

    This is a great topic! I think what is most interesting is how different players, such as religious organizations, have presented different perspectives and strongly advocated for what they believe in and we can see how this has played out at the policy level: a bill was passed by the house and senate. But, I think that the most important part is that individuals themselves can get involved in this issue by signing a petition. I think this is a great way to get individuals and communities involved in this policy issue, not just organizations that have specific interests.

  2. reetuverma11 Says:

    I agree that a comprehensive sex education in schools is necessary to address the problem of increasing rates of teen pregnancy and STDs. I believe the basic information on contraceptives should be included in the curriculum as advocating just for abstinence may not work. In addition, information about homosexuality must be included given that homosexuality is increasingly coming to the front and has largely been accepted in several states by allowing marriages among homosexuals. Teaching kids in schools about it will ensure that they respect an individual irrespective of his/her sexual orientation which will help homosexuals live a happier life.
    With respect to sexually transmitted infections, it will be useful to have the data about prevalence and incidence of these infections specifically in teens, rather than the overall population. This will give more weightage to the proposal for a comprehensive sex education.

  3. moj40111 Says:

    While you’ve raised some important points here, your data about pregnancy and STDs is misleading.

    As you say, research shows that “comprehensive sex education is more effective than abstinence-only.” As a result, states with abstinence-only sex education policies typically have higher-than-average rates of teen pregnancy and STDs. Utah, however, is unique. We are one of the few states that has a restrictive policy and yet has pregnancy/STD rates below the national averages.

    You say that Utah is ranked 13th for teen pregnancies, suggesting that Utah is 13th worst, when the hyperlink you provide shows that Utah’s teen pregnancy rate is the 13th LOWEST in the nation, significantly BETTER than the national average. In addition, the site you’re referencing above shows that Utah’s teen pregnancy rate has been declining (mostly steadily) for the past decade, with today’s rate around half of what it was in 1994: around 30 pregnancies per thousand females aged 15-19 today, when that number was over 60 per thousand in 1994.

    As for STDs, the link that you provide references a news article that is based on the Utah Dept. of Health’s “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, Utah, 2004-2013” report. If you look at Table 1 (on page 21) of the actual report yourself (health.utah.gov/epi/data/stdsurveillance/2004.2013_STD_Report.pdf), you can see that Utah’s STD rates are still significantly lower than the national averages. For the latest available comparative data (the 2012 data) in the report, Utah’s rates of the three diseases were 58.4%, 15.6%, and 30% of the respective national averages:
    Chlamydia: Utah = 266.9; US = 456.7 (per 100,000 population)
    Gonorrhea: Utah = 16.8; US = 107.5 (per 100,000 population)
    Syphilis: Utah = 1.5; US = 5 (per 100,000 population)

    Figures 1, 7, and 14 in the report show visual representations of how the Utah and national numbers are changing over time–the rates are increasing in Utah AND in the nation as a whole.

    Why, then, would Utah lawmakers want to change their approach?

    Why would any state want to follow national policies when your state is doing BETTER than the nation as a whole?

    And compared to other states with restrictive sex education policies, which are typically doing WORSE than the national average, Utah’s numbers are actually astonishing. The question we should be asking is: How is it that we are doing so WELL?

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