In 2011, Utah’s Republican-controlled House and Senate passed a bill that would have enshrined abstinence-only education across the state and banned any instruction of birth control, condoms, or LGBT issues in student health classes. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) vetoed the measure to prevent it from taking effect — and now that sexual education courses are mandatory in schools, one Utah lawmaker is proposing additional legislation to expand sexual health resources to parents.
State Sen. Stuart Reid (R) is proposing a bill that would require Utah’s Office of Education to prepare and distribute materials on sexual health to parents, as well as provide seminars to give parents in-person training about talking to their kids about sexual education topics. Reid told the Deseret News that many parents “don’t feel entirely comfortable” talking about sexual topics with their kids and need resources to help them learn how. “There’s reluctance to do that and what’s happened is we’ve turned it over to educators to take that responsibility on what is the most intimate topic in the lives of our children,” Reid said.
Fortunately, Reid’s bill does not seek to roll back the sexual education standards that are currently in place for Utah’s public schools. Health classes will still be required to teach students about physiology and prevention methods for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, although parents can choose to opt their children out of the courses. But Reid says he believes sex education should take place in the home, not in the classroom, and his bill is a reflection of that fact. Opponents to his measure, on the other hand, think it’s unnecessary to train parents to effectively communicate about sexual health:
The bill is only in draft form, but still managed to elicit debate and skepticism from members of the Education Interim Committee on Wednesday. Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, expressed concerns about drawing educational resources away from academic core subjects, like reading, writing and arithmetic. Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, suggested there is already ample resources available online for parents wishing to have a dialogue about sex with their kids.
“There’s a tremendous amount of information for parents who want to broach this with their children,” Anderson said. “This seems to me to be a government solution for a problem that really isn’t ours to own.”
Anderson is correct in his assertion that there are some excellent online resources about sexual health, but he misses the mark when he suggests that sex ed is less critical to youths’ education than “core subjects” like reading and math. In fact, comprehensive sexual education is essential to equip young adults with the resources they need to prevent pregnancy and STIs, understand their own reproductive systems, and develop healthy relationship skills that are centered on consensual experiences. And parents certainly need additional training, since they may not be prepared to effectively teach their children everything they need to know on those topics, just as many parents are not prepared to teach a high school English or math course.
While Reid’s bill could help further educate parents about an important topic they need to talk about with their children, parents’ guidance is not a replacement for comprehensive sex ed in the classroom. Sexual health needs to be talked about at home, but it also shouldn’t be confined to the home. Fortunately for Utah teens, however, the legislation in their state could allow them to have both.