Commentary: An accurate understanding of sex is a basic right that all young people deserve

Heather Scott

Discussions continue in Utah regarding health and sex education in our schools. Perhaps more effort needs to be made by those of us in the middle to come together to promote and achieve a reasonable curriculum that respects every individual’s values, while also allowing each student the availability of a more comprehensive curriculum.

Some will continue to lobby for abstinence-based programs only, while others prefer the maximum amount of information to be presented to every student.

There are many of us, however, who want to provide interested students with scientifically and medically accurate, age- and developmentally appropriate health and sexual information in a regulated manner that acknowledges and respects every student’s values.

Utah is a changing state, whether we like it or not. According to multiple polls and discussions with many educators, therapists, physicians, parents, and students, it seems that a growing majority would like to see more than abstinence-based sex education, and many would like the availability of comprehensive sex education.

As a formerly practicing Internist now at home raising three young children, I am among those who feel that having a complete and accurate understanding of development and sex is a basic human right that all young people deserve.

Studies and reviews by credible, unbiased institutions and peer reviewed journals have found that while abstinence is theoretically effective, intentions to abstain from sexual activity often fail in actual practice. In addition, the majority of scientific evidence finds that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are not effective in delaying initiation of sexual intercourse, or changing other sexual risk behaviors.

Research also shows that the more sex education adolescents are given, the longer they delay their first sexual experience. Responsible sex education teaches about healthy relationships and decision making along with development.

Utah’s rising rate of sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia, syphilis, HIV, and gonorrhea is an example of the potential medical implications of incomplete health and sex education. Of note, gonorrhea increases are occurring fastest in the general population, at a faster rate than is occurring nationally.

Some Utah health officials suggest this trend could be the result of a lack of comprehensive sex education.

Passage of the updates to the Utah Core Standards for Health Education would, among other things, provide education to younger children about basic anatomy that could help them identify and report sexual abuse. Many consider this a step in the right direction to providing students with information to keep them healthy and safe.

Parents who have concerns about whether topics on sexuality can be presented in an unbiased, respectful manner might benefit from taking a class to experience it for themselves. They are likely to find what myself and other parents in attendance discovered while participating in classes on how to talk to your children about sex. An expert instructor presented the material in a respectful, appropriate manner. The audience contained a broad range of parents – both conservative and liberal, religious and secular – and the atmosphere was one of safety and respect.

Most importantly, the instructor responded multiple times to questions by saying “I am the health expert, but I am not the expert of you and your family. I give you the information, and then you take it home and discuss it.”

It is a fact that not all parents are comfortable, willing, or able to accurately teach their children about health and sex. It is therefore our responsibility to make sure that we are providing information through our schools so that every child is educated, protected, and positioned to lead a healthy life.

Heather Scott, M.D., is a Utah resident since 2008. Formerly a practicing Internist, she is now at home raising three young children.