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Disservice to Teens

14 March 2012 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

Adolescence. We've all been there, and we would bet that most everyone remembers how awkward it can be. Hormones transform bodies. And suddenly there are a lot of questions about sex. Telling teens "just don't do it," and gagging our teachers so they can't even answer questions, will not stop young people from seeking out the answers on their own. 

Unfortunately, the information they cobble together is often uninformed, ill-advised, or downright wrong. Our Legislature just passed a bill that says that's the best we can do for our young people. But they're wrong.


Our students are best served by programs that educate and inform, not ones that dangerously limit information and mislead. They deserve education that provides them with balanced and accurate information, and supports them so they can make healthy and responsible decisions in life. The truth is that we can't be with our children all the time, but we can make sure that our schools give our students the tools they need to make informed and healthy decisions as they grow into adults.

If you think that sounds like a good idea, you're not alone. The overwhelming majority of Americans, including parents, support programs that are medically accurate, age-appropriate, and evidence-based, and educate youth both about waiting to have sex and using contraception effectively.

And comprehensive sex education is also supported by every major public health entity in our country. That's because study after study has found that teens who receive sex education that discusses waiting to have sex and information about contraception are more likely than those who receive abstinence-only-until-marriage messages to delay sexual activity. They are also more likely to use contraception when they do become sexually active, and they're more likely to have healthy relationships. They're also 50 percent less likely to face an unintended pregnancy.

At a time when, according to newly released national and Utah data, Utah teens facing unintended pregnancies say that they thought they couldn't get pregnant or that they believed they or their partner was sterile, we should not be further limiting young people's access to vital health information.

We should be empowering our teachers to correct these misconceptions. If Gov. Gary Herbert signs into law HB 363, the proposed abstinence-only bill, teachers would not be able to provide information about the health benefits of condoms or contraception, even if students are already sexually active. Educators would only be able to discuss abstinence. Yet, every parent knows that "just don't do it" doesn't work.

Our young people deserve programs that provide them with the real information that will help them lead healthy lives.

Members of the Utah Legislature do a great disservice to our sons and daughters, as well as our teachers, when they put ideology above science by supporting abstinence-only programs in the face of overwhelming evidence that they simply don't work.

The governor should tell the Legislature that we can do better for our young people by vetoing HB 363.

Karen McCreary is executive director of the ACLU of Utah; Marina Lowe is the organization's legislative and policy director.

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