Elizabeth Joy: Utah Republicans have an unhealthy obsession with sex

Obsession with other people’s sex lives is damaging for women and girls in Utah.

Sen. Dan McCay, R - Riverton, right, speaks as Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R - Clearfield, looks on during the Utah Taxpayers Association 2019 legislative outlook conference Monday, Jan., 7, 2019, in Salt Lake City. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is pitching his plan of adding new sales taxes while cutting the overall rate, an issue that could be contentious during the upcoming legislative session.Herbert told the Utah Taxpayers Association that economic changes have significantly narrowed the sales tax base, and now is the time to act. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Yet another pair of headlines on the front page of The Salt Lake Tribune highlight the apparent obsession with sex by the political majority in Utah. Whether that be sex as it is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “the sum of the structural, functional, and sometimes behavioral characteristics of organisms that distinguish males and females,” or the act of intercourse between two consenting adults, or the consequence of sexual intercourse — a pregnancy.

First, there’s Utah state Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, who questions the need for Utah’s ban on conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors — a practice that has been discredited by multiple medical and mental health professional organizations and banned in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

There is no scientific evidence in peer-reviewed journals that conversion therapy is effective in changing one’s sexual identity and considerable evidence that conversion therapy, which aims to eliminate same sex attraction, increases depression, anxiety, shame, self-hatred and suicide.

To claim that conversion therapy is “protected speech” for therapists isn’t just absurd, it’s malpractice.

Second, the inexcusable investigation and breech of privacy by the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) into a young girl’s school records to determine if she is “really a girl” after parents of rival athletes complained that she did not appear “feminine enough” and had bested their daughters in sport. This a direct consequence of the ban on transgender females competing in high school sports (under any circumstances) that was sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, and passed by the Republican-majority Legislature over the veto of Gov. Spencer Cox.

This is nothing short of “gender-policing” female athletes whose appearance and performance do not conform to (Utah) cultural norms. To then hear the UHSSA spokesperson, David Spatafore, state that the girl’s parents were not informed to protect her is both insulting and patriarchal. Utah parents and athletes would be naïve to think this is the last time that (female) student records will be scrutinized to “double check” on biological sex.

And all of this is on the backdrop of Utah’s trigger law, sponsored by Utah state Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, banning most abortions following the repeal of Roe vs. Wade. While the law is on hold following an injunction by the Third District Court, it would force females to carry a pregnancy to term unless that pregnancy was the result of a “reported” rape, incest, a severe fetal brain abnormality or the pregnancy threatened the life of the pregnant female.

There are so many holes and what ifs in this definition. Notably, rape is the only violent crime in Utah that occurs at a rate higher than the national average, yet is only reported to law enforcement 12% of the time. What is our collective responsibility as a society when pregnancy occurs in a woman with severe mental illness, substance use disorder, extreme poverty, domestic abuse – or all the aforementioned conditions at once?

Utah’s Republican policy makers, in their zeal to regulate sex by all its definitions, are negatively impacting the health and well being of children, adolescents and adults. Decisions regarding sexual and gender identity are best left to individuals and families.

The indefensible invasion of privacy into a minor female’s school records should be a red flag for all Utah parents with daughters.

Finally, when sex results in pregnancy, females should have the right to make autonomous decisions about their medical care.

Elizabeth Joy, M.D.

Elizabeth Joy, M.D., is a family medicine and sports medicine physician in Utah, former Division I athlete, mother and past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.