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Uncensored sex ed for Utah teens, thanks to health grants
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Amid some snickers and lots of grimaces, the teenagers tear into condom packages and slide the red rubbers onto pens.

They're careful not to rip the condoms as they open them and learn how to roll and remove them.

It was the first time some of them had handled a condom, and they weren't sure they liked it.

Fisi, 18, described it as "scary" because it was out of his comfort zone. But he said he was glad to get the practice in a classroom instead of in the moment — though he plans to delay that moment until he's married.

No, not all education in so-called "abstinence-only" Utah forgoes frank talk about sex.

But the talk isn't happening in public schools, where showing how to put on a condom is forbidden.

It's taking place in a Boys & Girls Club in a Salt Lake City west side neighborhood with the state's highest rate of teen births. The courses are part of a new effort by the Utah Department of Health to offer comprehensive sex education to teens. That means instructors promote abstinence first, as well as ways to be safe if teens choose not to wait.

"[Some] kids are telling us they may be possibly engaged in this behavior or they're seriously thinking about it," said Allison Barclay, vice president of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salt Lake. "They need to have the knowledge that's going to best protect them."

In the past, the health department has only had money to exclusively promote abstinence education. But the Affordable Care Act provided money to states — including $484,000 a year through 2015 to Utah — to expand their work to reduce teen pregnancy and STDs.

The new program focuses on teens at highest risk of becoming pregnant, including those living in areas with high teen birth rates.

The effort comes as sex education is back in the spotlight. A state lawmaker is proposing to make sex education classes in school optional. Current law forbids school teachers from advocating contraception. HB363 is awaiting discussion by the full House.

The health department's program is provided to teens who chose to take the classes outside school and have parental permission.

Six community organizations from Brigham City to Moab applied and will receive the Personal Responsibility Education Program money, which requires grantees to choose from evidence-based programs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is insufficient evidence that abstinence education prevents teen pregnancy or STDs.

The Boys & Girls' annual $100,000 grant will teach 500 teens in the Lied Club, Capitol West in Salt Lake City and in Tooele.

Just two of the 10 in the Lied Club class reported on a pre-course survey that they had had sex. Nevertheless, they said living in a neighborhood with a high teen birth rate takes a toll. They know friends or family members affected. The Salt Lake Tribune chose to not use the teens' last names.

There's a lot of girls getting pregnant nowadays," said Lotomoua, 17, who estimates she knows 10 classmates who are pregnant. "I just don't want to end up that way."

John, a 17-year-old, said classmates from his freshman year disappeared from school. "She had to drop out of school to provide for her child."

"Their babies' daddies usually leaves them. It's hard for me to see that," added a 17-year-old who calls himself Junior. He said he wants to make better decisions.

The organization chose the All4You! curriculum — a 14-week class that includes lessons on STDs, pregnancy prevention and negotiation skills. "We're not telling them to go out and have sex," said instructor Bruce Klain. But "If they do it, be safe about it."

During the condom class, boys and girls were separated in rooms with blacked-out windows. The kids were told they could get free condoms at Planned Parenthood clinics, and could pass that tip along to their friends. Fisi chimed in, "Or we can just tell them not to do it."

Federal health officials require that grantees who take the Personal Responsibility Education Program money choose from 28 evidence-based programs, including All4You!

The state health department narrowed the list down to four. All of them "focus quite a bit on condom use, and not just for preventing teen pregnancy but for preventing HIV and AIDS as well," said Jennifer Mayfield, the health department's adolescent health coordinator. "There is condom demonstrations in all of these curriculum."

State health officials discussed how the frank programs may offend conservative policy makers, but decided to seek the money, Mayfield said. "We wanted to do what we thought was best for our teens."

Data recently released to The Salt Lake Tribune showed widespread ignorance among Utah's teen mothers about their fertility. Among those who got pregnant by accident and didn't use contraception, 39 percent didn't think they could get pregnant at the time and 21 percent struggled to get birth control. Among the younger mothers, 25 percent thought they or their partner were sterile.

"It's an uncomfortable topic, so some parents don't know how to approach it with their youth," said Jescee Adams, health promotion specialist with the Bear River Health Department. It will use its grant to focus on teens in Brigham City, where the teen birth rate is higher than the state's. The teens' parents will be offered separate classes.

About 8 percent of newborns recently delivered at a community hospital were to teens under age 18, she said.

"We do have teen pregnancies and STDs in our area," she said. "These topics do need to be discussed to bring those numbers down."

During another recent class at the Lied Club, the teens worked on ways to refuse sexual pressure by knowing their limits, expressing their decision forcefully while explaining why, and suggesting something else to do.

The scenarios included a girl refusing to have sex by saying, "Love doesn't mean I have to give you some. I'm hungry. Let's go out and get something to eat." Another showed how a sexually active teen could insist on using protection when approached with the line: "Why should we be feeling rubber when we could be feeling each other?"

Fisi said schools are more "censored" than the club. But teens need the education, he said.

"The way society is right now, music videos are all about girls and guys and stuff like that, it's all about sex. Teaching [us] to be safe about stuff like that is good."

And John, who has been going to the Boys & Girls Club since elementary school, said he sought out the class, though he too plans to wait for sex until he's married.

"There's a lot of temptation out there."

hmay@sltrib.com

Alternative sex ed

The Utah Department of Health receives federal funds to promote abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education. Here's where the money went this fiscal year:

• Abstinence Education Program ($344,000 plus $288,000 in matching funds)

National Tongan American Society

Planned Parenthood Association of Utah

Pregnancy Resource Center of Salt Lake

Tooele County Health Department, Weber-Morgan Health Department

• Personal Responsibility Education Program ($484,000)

Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salt Lake

Club Red Teen Center, Moab

Centro Hispano, Utah County

Weber-Morgan Health Department

Bear River Health Department

Teen Mother and Child Program, University of Utah —

Alternative sex ed

The Utah Department of Health receives federal funds to promote abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education. Here's where the money went this fiscal year:

• Abstinence Education Program ($344,000 plus $288,000 in matching funds)

National Tongan American Society

Planned Parenthood Association of Utah

Pregnancy Resource Center of Salt Lake

Tooele County Health Department, Weber-Morgan Health Department

• Personal Responsibility Education Program ($484,000)

Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salt Lake

Club Red Teen Center, Moab

Centro Hispano, Utah County

Weber-Morgan Health Department

Bear River Health Department

Teen Mother and Child Program, University of Utah

Health • Program offers less "censored" courses to Utah teens.
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