As a new flu bug spreads across the globe, governments are acting swiftly to limit its toll. By contrast, Utah is facing an alarming increase in sexually transmitted diseases, and still the state is reluctant to give young adults, the age group most at risk, the preventive measures they need to stay healthy. That's inexcusable.
Utah cases of HIV increased 32 percent from 2007 to 2008 and gonorrhea infection nearly tripled in the same period; the incidence of chlamydia increased faster in Utah than anywhere else in the U.S., while comprehensive sex education, the best antidote to STDs, is kept under wraps.
Ideally, the state should require school health classes to teach about preventing sexually transmitted diseases by using contraceptives. Instead, Utah teachers are prevented by state law from saying too much about the benefits of contraceptives. As a group of students learned when they conducted a survey, many young Utahns don't understand the basics of how diseases are transferred and how to prevent them.
We are encouraged, however, by a change in curriculum just adopted by the State Office of Education, partially in response to requests by the same students and others, to allow teachers to explain the importance of getting tested for STDs and who should get the screenings. Teenagers often don't want to discuss their sexual activities with their parents, but if they have unprotected sex, they are at risk and should be tested. And they need to understand the possible consequences if they don't. This rule change could help.
The students also urged the State Board of Education to support House Bill 189, which would require, not just allow, educators, to teach about contraceptives in health classes. The House Health and Human Services Committee failed to pass the bill on to the full Legislature this year but the committee is scheduled to discuss it again on June 17.
This legislation should be passed. These students realize the importance and power of knowledge in fighting the spread of STDs seemingly better than the adults who are keeping the information from them.
There is no conflict in teaching about both contraceptive use and abstinence, as some legislators and parents fear. High school students are old enough and intelligent enough to understand that abstinence is the best option for avoiding both pregnancy and STDs. But when a teenager decides to be sexually active, then knowledge about condoms and other contraceptives is essential.