The Utah Legislature gave us the best possible description of how Utahans approach sex – absolute silence.
On Feb. 22, the state Senate sat without a peep for several minutes waiting for someone to make a motion to hear SB54, a bill related to sex education in Utah. No one made a motion, and the bill is now dead.
The term related is necessary because the bill would have changed nothing about how sex-ed is approached in Utah – it would only have allowed teachers to act according to the law without fear.
As it stands now, high school teachers, when giving that lesson which haunts every incoming freshman’s nightmares, can talk about contraceptives with parental consent, but not advocate their use in any way.
So, for instance a teacher could say, “Your parents told me that I could tell you that condoms exist,” but not “You should use a condom so no one gets pregnant or an STD, because either of those things would be bad, you idiot teenager.”
At all times, the teacher must stress that abstinence is the only sure-fire way to avoid pregnancy or STDs. Rape, needle exchange, passage from parent to child, and several other methods of transference don’t suddenly just go away because we live in an abstinence-only state.
But that’s neither here nor there. SB54 would not have changed sex-ed so much as it would have clarified that teachers can’t be fired or reprimanded for simply talking about contraceptives. As things stand now, many teachers don’t mention them at all, even by way of explanation, for fear of being accused of encouraging their use. SB54 would not let teachers do anything that is not already absolutely legal.
Here’s some simple logic – many UVU students were once students at Utah’s high schools. Many UVU students will begin to actively have sex in college, far more so than when they were in high school. Many UVU students learned little or nothing about safe sex while in high school. Ergo, at least some UVU students who have sex, either because they planned it or because they succumbed to temptation, will do it without proper knowledge of how to make it safe as possible.
This is not an accident, but rather a failure on the part of legislators. It is here, in college, where either responsible or irresponsible sex is likely to begin. High school education matters more than just academically.
Of course, there are many more ways to learn about safe sex than from a high school teacher. Parents, of course, should have a huge role, and teens learn much from their immediate friends. Information about safe sex is available online from various reputable sources as well.
But will every teenager walk up to a parent too embarrassed to talk about sex and ask for guidance? Certainly trolling around on the Internet for good advice on sex is perhaps less than advisable as well.
Mandatory and less restricted high school sex-ed is the only way to make sure that students at our university are provided the best possible chance to act responsibly.
It is absolutely true that Utah’s teen pregnancy rate and STD rate are low compared to the national average. But this has less to do with abstinence education than with the stigma and difficulty attached to sexuality among unmarried (and sometimes even married) individuals. Fear of being an outcast is a potent, if barbaric, force.
SB54 may have done nothing more for sex-ed than to make teachers more comfortable with the subject than the embarrassed students they are teaching. But we are so far behind that even this would have been a step in the right direction.
Too bad the most our supposedly adult legislators could muster was awkward silence.