Capitol Daily Memo: When it comes to sex ed, why promote an inferior standard?

Rep. Bill Wright, sponsor of HB 363

Here are a few thoughts in light of the House Education Committee’s favorable 8-7 vote on HB 363 today, a bill that would require abstinence education in public schools:

The current debate in Utah regarding how much and what type of sex education should be taught in public schools is yet another example of a key difference between conservatives and liberals. Liberals’ solution to this issue, like so many others, is to have government take care of it: teach students about puberty, sex, STDs, contraception, consequences of teen pregnancy and so on.

Here is where conservatives and liberals agree: Kids need to know about sex and its consequences. The key difference is who should teach it. Conservatives believe moms and dads are the most effective teachers for their children. Some parents do a better job at this than others, and when government perceives a “need” (real or imagined) – in this case, the need to educate students about sex – and perceives that this need is not being filled by families, churches or other private organizations, then it is more than happy to fill that need. 

So if government feels the need to teach sex ed, it should promote the gold standard, not an inferior standard.

In public education, schools wouldn’t teach children to use inferior methods of research in science class or, in wood shop, to build a piece of furniture that would collapse. A driver’s ed teacher, or parent, wouldn’t discourage children from drinking and driving but then, just in case the children choose to, show them how to drive properly and safely while drunk.

In sex education, abstinence is the gold standard. So when children are curious about sex, we don’t teach them to abstain but then show them how to do it “safely” using faulty prevention methods – instead, we teach them that sex is good and healthy in the proper context, but that engaging in it prematurely can damage their lives physically, socially and emotionally. We don’t lead them to believe that parents, society or government expect anything less than self-discipline.

According to Department of Health data, less than one half of one percent (0.45 percent) of Utah teens had an STD in 2010. And only one percent of unmarried teenage girls were pregnant in 2010. It’s clear we don’t have a reproductive crisis among Utah’s youth; still, we should not disregard the relative few who do struggle with these health problems.

The solution, however, is not to teach a lower standard to all children in order to address a problem that affects one percent of them. These health problems are personal medical issues that require personal attention. Medical practitioners, not the local health teacher, are best equipped to provide parents and their children with the most personalized, medically accurate, age-appropriate information available to meet their needs.

Since 2006, the gonorrhea infection rate for Utahns age 10-19 has fallen 71 percent, due at least in part to targeted efforts by health departments to track, treat and prevent the disease. This success suggests that if government gets involved at all, then targeting other health issues through the efforts of medical professionals and qualified community groups in non-school settings can provide more appropriate and effective solutions than involving schools, which prefer to focus on academics.

*Dave Buer contributed to this report.