A bill requiring sex education classes to teach an abstinence-only curriculum moved closer to becoming a law in Utah Wednesday.
The state House passed HB 363 in a 45-28 vote following extensive debate. The bill -- which now goes on to the state Senate -- would lift the current requirement that all public schools must teach sex ed in grades 8 through 12. If the bill passes, districts would decide whether to offer sex ed classes that teach an abstinence-only curriculum, or not offer the course at all. Republican state Rep. Bill Wright sponsored the proposal.
"We've been culturally watered down to think we have to teach about sex, about having sex and how to get away with it, which is intellectually dishonest," Wright said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. "Why don't we just be honest with them upfront that sex outside marriage is devastating?"
The version of the bill that passed through the state House Wednesday would prohibit any instruction in contraception, though teachers would be allowed to answer student questions about safe sex.
That provision is a departure from current law, which prohibits the advocacy of contraception and sexual activity outside of marriage. It also tightens the already-conservative regulations that sex ed curricula emphasize abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage and "personal skills that encourage individual choice of abstinence and fidelity."
An abstinence-only sex education course, Wright said, would include lessons on friendship, dating and love. It could include lessons on the consequences of sex outside of marriage and a chapter on how to say no to sex. The lawmaker believes that poverty rates would drop if abstinence became a more common practice, the Daily Herald reports.
Critics of the bill like Democratic state Rep. Carol Spackman said abstinence can't be taught without discussions of contraceptive failures, protecting yourself from sexually transmitted diseases. She adds that not teaching the consequences of sex among young people is "really immoral," The Salt Lake Tribune reports.
Republican state Rep. Francis Gibson said that in the school district he represents, the abstinence-only curriculum is not proving effective. Teens are becoming parents of unplanned children, and religious leaders have also pointed out to him that the current formula for sex education needs revision, according to the Daily Herald.
"I would hope as we make this decision, that we won't think if we say abstinence only, that fairy dust will have been sprinkled and that teen pregnancy will no longer be a problem," Gibson said.
The Utah bill is one of a handful of proposals or regulations for American classrooms. A piece of legislation that passed through the Wisconsin state Senate last November requires schools to promote abstinence and marriage in sex ed classes as the only way to prevent unplanned pregnancies and STDs, but doesn't bar lessons on contraception.
Last October, New York City rocked the boat when the state's Department of Education recommended new curriculum inform students on sexual topics including everything from bestiality to phone sex and vibrators.
The proposal was greeted with staunch criticism, leading the New York Department of Education to dial back its proposed changes, by removing some of the more X-rated content including flash cards for middle schoolers which explained sex acts like anal sex and mutual masturbation.
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