Commentary: Utah students deserve real sex education

All Utah teens should have knowledge of how they can keep themselves and others safe.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Planned Parenthood Teen Council member Marta Myshralle, 17, knows that sex education through the outreach in the community and the lack of understanding she encounters as a student liaison. The Utah Capitol was covered in pink August 25, 2015 as Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah held a community rally and proponents of the family- planning organization gathered. Governor Gary Herbert has said the money that would have gone to Planned Parenthood will be redirected to 26 health agencies in the state in 49 locations. Planned Parenthood estimates it will lose $75,000 of STD testing and more than $100,000 for educational programs.

Schools have the responsibility to prepare students for the future, yet one crucial aspect of our education continues to be neglected. All Utah teens should have knowledge of how they can keep themselves and others safe if they choose to have sex. With proper sex education, teens will be empowered to make informed decisions on preventing unintended pregnancy and STIs.

In particular, Utah public high schools have the duty to teach contraception, because teens who do not have the full truth are at risk. Many parents do not discuss safe sex with their children, yet “nearly two-thirds of Utahns want the option of comprehensive sex education for children in public schools,” according to a UtahPolicy poll. Nevertheless, many public schools and some private schools, such as Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, refuse to provide this option. Despite these poll results, the Utah Legislature refuses to speak for the majority of citizens in Utah.

Many believe that teens who receive a comprehensive sex education are more likely to have sex. However, studies from Guttmacher Institute state, “Receiving sex education actually delays teen sex.” In addition, many abstinence-only supporters rely on parents to teach their kids about sex, yet studies have shown that “parents of teens held misconceptions about both condoms and hormonal birth control.”

Despite evidence supporting the claim that abstinence-only education leads to the distribution of false information among parents and children, Utah law continues to advocate for an abstinence-only-based education.

The current Utah bill, H.B. 363, stresses,“the importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage as the only sure methods for preventing certain communicable diseases.”

Although abstinence is the most effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STIs, teens will still have sex. Because abstinence is greatly stressed, contraceptive methods will not be taught and, if teens choose to have sex without proper education, they will be more likely to engage in riskier sexual behaviors and have a higher risk of pregnancy or contracting STIs. If these teens experience symptoms of an STI, they may not know they have an STI at all or where they can go to get help. This leads many teens to rely on the internet, which often supplies incorrect or misleading information.

While Utah politics play a large role in regulating sex education in public schools, religion also establishes many restrictions. As youth who have benefited from a thorough sex education, we believe it is important to separate the church and state while also respecting religious perspectives. While many public schools ban the teaching of contraceptives because of different religious practices, it is also evident that many religious private schools also place the same restrictions. However, it is still important to respect religious values, even in the context of comprehensive sex ed.

So how do we provide a meaningful and influential sex education while respecting everyone’s religious beliefs? We should add a thorough health curriculum in all schools that includes the teaching of contraception. If someone has a religious conflict, they can request not to take the class. This way we can ensure people can follow their own beliefs while also having access to a proper sex education.

However, in spite of public opinions backed up by research polls, our voices continue to fall on deaf ears. To make our voices heard, contact government officials to voice your opinion so we can finally make the changes Utah wants to see.

Simon Tucker is a senior and Mia Chamberlain is a junior at Rowland Hall High School, Salt Lake City.