Why Can't I Have Sex?

The Utah legislative session is underway, and we all know what that means – newfound hope, optimism, and opportunities for positive change statewide. As you read this, many social advocacy organizations are working tirelessly alongside our state’s lobbyists, legislators, etc. to positively influence the laws that affect our residents every single day. I’ve recently had the privilege of working under Turner Bitton, the executive director of UCASA – the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault – as he works to implement some changes in today’s state laws. Aside from handling rape kit testing and assault report confidentiality, UCASA has been pushing for a comprehensive sex education system in Utah’s public schools in order to educate our youth about sexual assault, consent and what it means to prepare for, and have healthy adult relationships.

As it stands now, Utah public schools and sex educators have the choice to opt for one of two programs – either abstinence based, or abstinence only. An abstinence based program is one in which school administrators have the choice to include topics covered in comprehensive sex education programs, like condom use, types and uses of contraception, STI’s, etc. This option, however, must still coincide with the agreement that abstinence will be the primary push and focus. And even those schools that agree to an abstinence based program teach very little about the “dirty” side of adult relationships – the sex, the intimacy and the real risks. Additionally, and with little surprise, abstinence only programs are the most popular throughout the state, and under their code of operation, the above topics are forbidden, and only lessons concerning advocacy for abstinence until marriage are permissible in the classroom.  

Now, I don’t particularly like the idea of our state’s 14 and 15-year-olds hooking up given their limited levels of self-awareness, understanding and maturity. But, at the same time, I don’t see why sex has to be the taboo issue that it is in conservative Utah. Sex isn’t bad. And while I understand that many Utahn’s urge their children to wait until marriage to engage in sexual relations, there are still plenty of kids and young adults in our state having sex before then. They need to be educated because the possible consequences stemming from sexual and relational ignorance, even post marriage, are so much greater than the consequences coming from pre-marital sex.

Comprehensive sex education programs give states and school districts better chances of seeing significant reductions in teen pregnancy (by 50%, in fact), STI’s, sexual abuse and domestic violence. One of the primary goals of comprehensive sex education is to teach kids how to protect themselves and others from the risks and dangers of sex without having to be afraid of it, which is something I, as well as others, consider very important to developing healthy, trusting adult relationships later in life. And while it isn’t the end of the world if someone has sex at an early age, an increase in sex education in general has been proven to prolong sex better than any abstinence based, or abstinence only education systems. Kids walk away from class with better understandings of what sex and intercourse really mean as paths of self-discovery and understanding: a growth of intimacy, trust and respect between them and another person as well as preparation for healthy relationships in the future.

Abstinence based and only programs, however, do a great job of teaching our youth that sex is inappropriate and taboo, only reinforcing women’s fears of it, and men’s aggressions and ill-respect towards it. Many of the problems having to do with sexual assault and rape stem from sexual ignorance. Men and women go into relations, even marital, with little understanding of what consent really means. Men think that relationships and marriage are automatic “yes’s,” when it comes to sex, and women don’t understand how to say no to their partners, let alone that they even can. And when rape and sexual assault then ensue, women wake up the next morning maybe feeling a little off and disconnected, but never “raped.” And from here, ignorance breeds ignorance, which we all know isn’t hard to do when people don’t understand how to properly use condoms and contraceptives. Abstinence based and abstinence only programs expect children’s parents to do the blunt of the educating. But how can they when they were never educated themselves and still don’t understand what an IUD is, or that female condoms exist?

Additionally, and unfortunately, under Utah public school code, “the advocacy of homosexuality,” is banned, meaning that homosexual class guests cannot speak to students about what it means to be gay and in a relationship, and programs are expected to avoid topics covering intimate homosexual relations, as well as homosexuality in general. I can’t even begin to cover how emotionally damaging and unfair this is to those kids who may identify as LGBTQ. When they learn about “how babies are made,” they’re forced to sit through lectures on how they’re expected to wait until they’re in heterosexual married relationships to have intimate relations with another person. Well, what if that simply isn’t right for them? Are they expected to just sit there confused, thinking that there’s something wrong with who they are, or might be, because the topic of homosexuality is off limits? It shouldn’t be. LGBTQ kids have their own risks tied to sex that need to be addressed, and avoiding talking about those relationships and those risks only perpetuates the idea that there is something abnormal, or not okay about homosexuality, which isn’t fair to identifying students who will be at greater risk later on for a lack of education.  

A comprehensive sex education system, while difficult to implement due to conservative fears, would greatly benefit our student population, thus minimizing, and potentially even eliminating, sexual ignorance and violence within our state in a single generation. It isn’t a difficult fix, but it is an important one if we want our state’s children to be safe and happy in their relationships now and in the future.