In a recent opinion piece (”Utah students deserve real sex education,” May 30), two high school students argued that comprehensive sex education is the only way to ensure that Utah teens can “keep themselves and others safe if they choose to have sex.” They bolster this statement by presenting themselves as the unheard voice of the majority of youth in Utah.
As a fellow teenager in Utah’s school system, my purpose is to refute this claim and reveal the truth about sex ed in Utah.
To begin, they cite a UtahPolicy poll where almost two–thirds of Utahns said they would prefer comprehensive sex education (CSE) to abstinence-only sex education. However, participants were not given any context for what comprehensive sex education is or given any examples of CSE curriculum. Therefore, the assertion that “the majority of citizens in Utah” want CSE can’t be confirmed without more accurate surveys.
Next, the authors seek to allay the fears of parents that receiving comprehensive sex education encourages sex. To disprove this notion, they refer to a study from the Guttmacher Institute stating, “Receiving sex education actually delays teen sex.” What many may not know is that the Guttmacher Institute is an offshoot of Planned Parenthood, one of the main entities pushing for and benefiting financially from CSE in schools, making it a biased source.
The article itself admits that “abstinence is the most effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STIs (sexually transmitted infections),” but then says that teens will have sex anyway. However, according to Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, only 41 percent of teens in the United States have ever had sex, and sexual activity as well as teen pregnancy is far lower in Utah than the national average. This indicates that our current abstinence-based education is more effective than other curricula implemented elsewhere.
A recurring theme in the commentary is comprehensive sex education’s ability to educate teenagers about STIs and contraception. However, a recent review of 60 peer-reviewed studies of 40 CSE programs used in U.S. classrooms showed that none of the CSE studies demonstrated a reduction in teen STIs.
Further, what the authors fail to mention is that contraception and STIs are already a main topic in abstinence-based sex education programs in Utah. In my experience, these topics are thoroughly covered. Our classes discuss condoms, hormonal birth control and other contraceptives, focusing on their effectiveness and the risks involved. We also spend a lengthy unit learning about STIs, including how they are spread, symptoms of each infection and the effectiveness of condoms in preventing them. Further graphic instruction about how to use birth control doesn’t seem necessary for teens who aren’t even old enough to legally consent to sex.
Finally, the authors try to suggest that religious beliefs are the foundation of Utah’s laws concerning abstinence-based sex education. In reality, it has little to do with religion and everything to do with science. We promote abstinence because it’s the best way to ensure teens’ sexual health.
The solution recommended to respect all beliefs is to impose CSE on every school, but provide a caveat where a student can opt out of the class. Unfortunately, many states that embrace CSE have started out with this loophole and then made it mandatory for everyone in the name of “proper sex education.”
The authors of this commentary don’t represent the majority of Utah youth. In fact, in my experience they represent the vast minority. By the opposing side’s admission, abstinence is the only real way to ensure sexual safety. Why would we settle for anything less than the best for Utah’s youth?
Heather Ells, Springville, is a sophomore at Maple Mountain High School.