Sex and confusion: Tribune article is a puzzler


Selecting tidbits from the School Health Profiles 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Salt Lake Tribune’s recent article, “Sex and chocolate: Utah kids know a lot about one, not the other,” laments the fact that “Utah schools have nearly barred the topic of safe sex. Utah had the lowest percentage of high schools in which students were taught these points: The efficacy of condoms, the importance of using condoms consistently and correctly, how to obtain condoms and how to use condoms correctly.”

The Tribune then explains why: “Utah law forbids the advocacy or encouragement of contraception in public schools.” The Tribune reporter does not, however, explain what Utah law does encourage with regards to sex education.

From the Utah code:

53A-13-101.   Instruction in health — Parental consent requirements — Conduct and speech of school employees and volunteers — Political and religious doctrine prohibited.
(1) (a) The State Board of Education shall establish curriculum requirements under Section 53A-1-402, that include instruction in:
(i) community and personal health;
(ii) physiology;
(iii) personal hygiene; and
(iv) prevention of communicable disease.
(b) (i) That instruction shall stress:
(A) the importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage as methods for preventing certain communicable diseases; and

(B) personal skills that encourage individual choice of abstinence and fidelity.

[emphasis added]

And the section “forbidding” contraception instruction:

(A) that the materials adopted by a local school board under Subsection (1)(c)(ii)(B) shall be based upon recommendations of the school district’s Curriculum Materials Review Committee that comply with state law and state board rules emphasizing abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage, and prohibiting instruction in:
(I) the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation, or erotic behavior;
(II) the advocacy of homosexuality;
(III) the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices; or
(IV) the advocacy of sexual activity outside of marriage;

[emphasis added]

So how are Utah schools doing in teaching abstinence? The School Health Profiles 2010 report shows teachers taught the benefits of being sexually abstinent in 94.6 percent of secondary schools in Utah. The U.S. median for all states is actually higher, at 95.1 percent. It appears abstinence education is not simply a Utah phenomenon.

More confusion from the Tribune article, as it quotes a Utah Department of Health official:

Among youth the health department teaches, many report they learned little about protection in school. “It’s very, very limited,” Meinor said. “The majority [of youth] cannot even talk about the four fluids that can transmit HIV [blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk].”

Yet the School Health Profiles 2010 report seems to show otherwise, with 88.1 percent of Utah secondary schools having taught how to prevent HIV, other STDs and pregnancy. By the way, as of 2009, only three people under the age of 20 in the entire state of Utah were reported to have HIV/AIDS – hardly an indictment of what is currently happening in Utah schools.

With so much data contradicting this article, the question needs to be asked: Why was the article written this way, or written at all? Is it really newsworthy that Utah schools teach students how to use a condom less than schools in other states, considering that Utah law requires schools to stress abstinence? What is the Tribune trying to say?

Clearly, the Utah code, written and passed by the Utah Legislature (which is elected by the people of Utah to implement laws reflective of Utahns’ desires for how Utah society should function) emphasizes the teaching of abstinence from sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage in lieu of advocating for contraceptive methods.

Is the Tribune concerned that not teaching kids how to use condoms is dangerous? Does the Tribune believe kids are increasingly having premarital sex and need to be taught how to do so safely, and that abstinence education isn’t effective? The data do not validate such concerns. Whatever the motivations, the article appears to have emphasized certain pieces of data while excluding others at the expense of objectivity.

The larger question still remains: Should sex education (abstinence, condom use, whatever) be taught in Utah public schools at all? Or is it the parents’ domain to teach their children what and when they will? Or is it some combination of the two?