Utah Needs Comprehensive Sex Education

Utah's abstinence-only and exclusive sex education is a hotly debated topic. 29 states in the United States stress abstinence only sexual education and those states have rising STD numbers. Outside of the United States, several European countries are illustrating more comprehensive alternatives.The Dutch start teaching children about couples in kindergarten. Norway has “Puberteen” where 8-12 yea olds watch a sex-ed video series. Sweden starts teaching girls and boys about their “private parts” in elementary school before talking about sex in the later grades. 

And within the United States, other states are doing more than Utah. New York tries to follow a better sex education model. I started learning sex ed when I was in elementary school. I learned what an STD was before I learned how to divide. I learned about HIV before I saw Frozen. We had a coed health lesson on “private parts” when I was 13 and I’ll never forget how intrigued the boys were about periods. Of course, they were pretty immature for young tweens but for the most part, they were pretty respectful in asking the girls in the class about why they carried green and orange “mini square pillows” everywhere. 

Every year in high school, I got a lesson in sex ed. In my junior year, I learned the four steps on using a condom safely. Check the expiration date, look for holes, make sure there is space at the top with no air, and make sure it reaches the base of the penis. My yoga teacher even used a wood model and condom to show us. I learned about the female condom, six basic forms of birth control (nuva ring, dental dam, condom, pill, hormone patch, and implants). I learned that there are two birth control pills, a combination pill and progestin-only pill. I learned that if you take the combination pill within five days after your period starts, you’ll be protected immediately. We were taught that even when using birth control, you should always use a condom, and that antibiotics reduce the effect of birth control pills altogether. 

In Utah, sex ed is talked about for a few days. The anatomy isn’t discussed very much. Students learn that abstinence is the only way to guarantee prevention of STDs. I spoke to someone from Idaho, who learned about condoms with a sock on the foot. I spoke to someone from West Jordan whose teacher skipped over it almost completely. Sex is going to happen between any two hormonal teenagers no matter what. Teaching abstinence doesn’t mean that teenagers still aren’t hormonal and still don’t want to get down. A lack of sex education can lead to unwanted pregnancies because women are not informed on how to avoid getting pregnant in the first place. Depending on the parents to teach you about the birds and the bees isn’t effective either. One parent may teach their kid early and the other may avoid it just like the teachers...and then what? How are students supposed to know what’s going on with their bodies if they’re not getting taught this material?

And sometimes the organizations looking to correct this problem are associated with unnecessary controversy. I know, for example, that there has been a lot of controversy around Planned Parenthood, but this is completely due to misinformation. Planned Parenthood is an excellent resource for men and women; it’s shameful that there are leaders in this country that believe it’s an abortion factory. Planned Parenthood aids in STD testing/treatment, cancer testing, vaccinations, contraceptives, rape counseling referrals, infertility screenings, prenatal services, inexpensive birth control and contraceptives. They have pamphets on sex ed, they’ll answer all your questions, and it costs less to get any of those services than it would at a hospital. If anything, Planned Parenthood has done more to inform the public on safe sex than an abstinence only education has. 

Although my sex ed was much more thorough, that doesn’t exactly make it good sexual education. I also learned a lot through fellow peers who were advised to do their own research by teachers because there is a lot of information that the curriculum doesn’t include. For example, queer sex ed is never talked about. Gender expressions (non-binary, gender fluid, demigender, femme, transgender, etc.) were talked about in a 10 minute explanation and sexuality didn’t go beyond gay and bi.

In Italy, comprehensive sex ed starts freshman year. A documentary on policies in other countries showed how a teacher was describing passion and how sex was all about “giving and receiving pleasure from your partner.” It wasn’t just cold, hard facts, but what I think was a very inclusive lesson on the meaning of sex. 

Sex is one of the most natural things that humans do, and I honestly cannot understand why it’s considered such a taboo subject. A more inclusive sex education model would lower the rates of STDs, lower the number of unwanted pregnancies and overall, keep people informed! The moment that you start believing that an abstinence education model is better because it won’t scar children or teach them something they’re not ready to learn too early is the moment that you have agreed to let them fend for themselves at one of the most emotional, hormonal periods of their lives with no one around to help them. We owe it to children in school to learn about their body in a safe way.