Let’s talk about the s-word.
It’s a conversation many in Utah don’t want to have, as evidenced by the recent fervor across the Beehive State, but we need to have the sex talk.
Because clearly, someone isn’t having it, and because of this, STDs have been on the rise year-over-year since 2013, according to the Utah County Health Department.
In an article by Braley Dodson, the clear, stark need for a more open dialog about sex and sex education is made pretty obvious when considering that there were more diagnoses of chlamydia in Utah County than influenza last year.
We understand that this is diagnoses and not actual cases of influenza. However, a 62% increase in chlamydia rates in five years is really disturbing and should be taken more seriously.
There are a lot of factors that may play into this high rate, and many of them are discussed in Dodson’s article. Regular screenings are not conducted on a routine basis and because of that, a lot of STDs are not being identified or are not being prevented at early stages and then develop into major health concerns.
Clinics may also not be engaging in open discussions about sexual habits and relations with clients, which can result in clients not receiving anal testing and other STD tests in routine exams. Doctors, nurses and any medical professional involved in administering or being involved in such tests should be open to discussing this information with their patients. It may literally save lives, especially for those at higher risks of contracting STDs, particularly the LGBT community.
But the biggest red flag in our reading of Dodson’s article and in recent discussions at the state-level is a general lack of education. A lack of education about safe sex and routine screening for STDs is considered by the Health Department as one of the greatest contributors to STD transmission.
Now, talking about sex, STDs and sexual relations with youth and younger adults is often deemed an uncomfortable situation. More than one of our staffers never had “the talk” with their parents, and their parents left the school systems to teach their young, impressionable children about sexual relations. But this was then left to schools, which largely taught abstinence-only sexual education and avoided any conversations about even the inkling that teenagers would engage in sexual relations before marriage. If procreation is considered by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be among one of the most sacred responsibilities, why is it treated with such taboo?
This week, members of the Utah Eagle Forum took to the State Board of Education to express their displeasure for a new teacher guide for sex education, which they deemed “explicit.”
The guide includes many questions that teachers should be prepared to answer in a straightforward, factual way. These include: “Can a girl get pregnant while she is on her period?” “Can you get an STD or STI if you only have oral sex?” “How do you know if you have an STD or STI?” and “What is an orgasm?”
Each answer to these questions is scientific in its approach, and answers the question in direct means. The guide specifically cautions teachers from answering questions concerning sexual techniques and teachers are not required to address any questions they do not feel comfortable answering. The teacher is instructed to reinforce the value of asking questions as a means of learning about healthy decisions, and teachers are discouraged from including personal biases or past experiences.
But the Eagle Forum felt that the guide is too explicit to be a part of the classroom and students should talk to their parents about these questions. But the fact is that if parents are not already having “the talk” with their children, that dialog to open up and talk about sensitive sex-related topics is likely not happening.
We are not encouraging teenagers to engage in sexual relations. But we are also not naïve and know that it will happen for some. We want them to be equipped with knowledge and education, rather than questions and confusion, if they choose to engage in sexual relations before marriage.
We do not believe that these new changes to the Utah sexual education curriculum and instruction, that are decades overdue, are inappropriate. And to be frank, if a parent feels differently, they have their rights under Utah law to pull their child from sex education curriculum. It’s simple — you just don’t sign the required permission form sent home with your child. Exercise that right should you deem the new curriculum inappropriate, but don’t impose your beliefs on an entire education system just because you don’t want your children to know about how STDs are contracted. Even if you believe your child wouldn’t benefit from sex education, many of your child’s classmates would.
If Utah’s youth are not taught the easy way about the dangers of unsafe sex practices, we run the risk of them learning the hard way. We sincerely believe that education is the best means of risk mitigation. We trust that the new sex education standards are a step in the right direction to avoid preventable diseases and engage in an open dialog, hopefully in the home as well.
When it comes down to it, we don’t need to “protect” school classes from sex education; we need to protect the current generation of Utah kids from carrying on the trend of chlamydia case numbers growing higher and higher. We need new solutions from families, health care and general sex education for all populations.