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Sex Education Update: The Good, the Bad, and Utah

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Several states are passing laws that would prevent teaching sex education in the classroom.

CREDIT: istockphoto

It seems that some conservative legislators have declared open season on reproductive health lately (contraception and ultrasounds and sluts, oh my!). And now, they’re training their sights on the classroom.

The bad news first:

Utah lawmakers recently passed legislation that amounts to a gag rule on teaching sex education. Teachers in public schools would be barred from teaching about contraception, homosexuality, or anything else about sex—other than to say that teens shouldn’t have it before marriage.

If the bill becomes law, which looks likely, Utah would become the first state to ban the practice of teaching contraception as a means of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

The bill would also allow schools to skip sex education entirely. This is likely a terrible idea, given a recent Guttmacher Institute study that showed more teens who received no formal sex education had sex before the age of 20 than their educated peers.

Even abstinence-only education may be better than no education at all, the study authors said, because such programs often discuss contraception if only to emphasize their failure rates. Yet other research has shown abstinence-only programs to have no statistically significant effect on teen sexual activity.

Rep. Bill Wright, who sponsored the Utah bill, offered a strongly negative opinion on sex education.

“Why don’t we just be honest with them upfront that sex outside marriage is devastating?” he said.

But when about 95 percent of Americans have pre-marital sex, withholding information from teenagers on how to avoid life-changing consequences that can come with sexual activity seems like the height of dishonesty.

And Wisconsin legislators seem eager to join Utah’s educational irresponsibility club. There, Gov. Scott Walker is poised to sign legislation that would emphasize abstinence-only sex education and remove requirements to teach about contraception.

Now, some good news:

Fourth and fifth graders in Muskegon, Mich. public schools will learn about homosexuality and transgender issues as well as how sexual intercourse works. (The latter is reserved for fifth graders, though fourth graders will learn about sperm and eggs.)

“Many kids, the data show us, become sexually active in fifth, sixth grade,” said Isabel Blake-Evans, the district’s executive director of secondary education. “The whole premise behind this is to keep kids safe.”

The information about homosexuality and transgender issues will be used as part of diversity and anti-bullying instruction—hopefully making life a little easier for queer youth in Michigan.

Of course, Fox News’s ever-critical culture warriors didn’t take kindly to this news. Gretchen Carlson said that parents’ “power is being usurped by the school district” on these so-called “cultural issues.”

There’s great news for young adults, too: The Colorado Department of Public Health has started a program called BeforePlay, which encourages open discussion of pre-marital sex to help destigmatize it and reduce unintended pregnancy.

As Jezebel put it: “Wow, a government program that actually responds to pressing sex ed issues in a rational, accessible, non-preachy way!”

If other states take Colorado’s cue, the sexual health of young Americans might stand a fighting chance against some of these conservative attacks.

Emily Crockett is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @emilycrockett.

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