If you’ve read any of our other state reports, you’re likely expecting to read that Utah is absinence-only and no changes have been made to their legislation for over 30 years. But, hooray! Although they are still an abstinence-stressed state, Utah has recently passed a law that gives educators the language they need to teach other methods of contraception. While Utah has attempted to pass multiple bills with the same intent over the years, it wasn’t until 2019 that there was finally a win! It’s a very, very small step, but we’ll take what we can. Hopefully this means more change is a comin’.
1800s- pamphlets about venereal diseases, overall good hygiene, and the evils of prostitution and masturbation were widely distributed outside of schools.
1913- Chicago attempts to formally introduce sex-ed into their school systems. The Catholic Church helps shut it down. (8)
1914– The American Hygiene Association was founded to teach soldiers about sexual hygiene throughout the war. They would later be involved in creating school curriculums.
1916– Planned Parenthood is founded in New York.
1919– A report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Children’s Bureau was released that suggested soldiers would have been better off if they had received sex instruction in school. (8)
1920s– resurgence of interest in getting sex-ed into schools.
Between 20-40% of U.S. school systems had programs in social hygiene and sexuality. (8)
1930s– The U.S. Office of Education began to publish materials and train teachers.
1964– The medical director at Planned Parenthood, Mary Calderone, founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) in part to challenge the American Social Hygiene Association.
1968– A pamphlet called “Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?” is widely distributed by Gordon Drake and James Hargis framing sex ed as a way to indoctrinate children into communism. Thus began the scary rhetoric that sex-ed was teaching students to be homosexuals and that teachers were having sex in front of students. (8)
1980s– The AIDS epidemic takes hold. Religious groups use this public health crisis to push their own agenda and convince school board members and legislative officials that abstinence-only sex education was the only way to keep kids “safe.”
1981– President Regan signed the Adolescent Family Life Act (aka the “Chastity Law” –yikes!). This law allowed federal funding to go to abstinence-only programming. And abstinence-only sexuality education (AOSE) and abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) programming became the norm in the US.
2004: Study is published showing the harms of abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs and the importance of investing in comprehensive sexuality education. There are plenty more studies that have been published since reaffirming the same results. (It’s possible there were studies earlier than this, but this was the earliest one we could find. Know of an earlier one? Please get in touch!)
2018: Under the Trump administration, Abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) is rebranded to be Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) (1). More federal funding goes towards pushing these programs.
And in Utah…
1997: Utah State Board of Education establishes the Core Standards for Health Education. It was created as a foundation for the curriculum of grades K-12.
2012: The first of many bills to sway the State Board of Education’s way of teaching Sex-Ed was put forth, but continuously failed.
2019: HB71 was signed into law, being one of the first revisions to the 1997 Core Standards of Health Education.
Fast forward to today, Utah remains an abstinence-based state. Although it’s inclusive of alternative methods of contraceptive, it is not inclusive of other sexual orientations. Parental consent is required for a pupil to participate in sex education courses.
We’ll go over a few bills themselves, but we also want to address that some of Utah’s laws prohibit teachers from interacting with students’ questions in a way that interferes with the law itself. We love a good contradiction.
- R277-474 of the Utah Administrative Code establishes the requirements of medically accurate information.
- HB393. Back in 2012, there was a bill going around that whispered ideas of eliminating sex education classes entirely, for the sake of saving the jobs of teachers who found it tricky teaching certain aspects of Sex-Ed (3). It failed.
- HB246. In December of 2016, this bill introduced an evidence-based style of sexual education that encouraged a more comprehensive method of learning. This method would introduce the importance of healthy relationships, alternative methods of contraception, and the need to involve parents, nurses, and teachers to determine what materials comply with a comprehensive method of Sex-Ed. Unfortunately, it failed.
- HB71. Earlier in 2019, this bill was signed by the Governor of Utah. Its intent is to clarify the language surrounding other methods of contraception, like birth control and condoms, making it easier for educators to cover this area in sex-ed without overstepping a line. It does not, however, change the fact that educators are still expected to stress abstinence (2). This was an important contribution because, before it, the law was murky. Educators could mention other contraceptive measures, but they couldn’t advocate for them. How to differentiate? No one knew. So, many skipped teaching them altogether.
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
In Utah, sex-ed is mandatory and so is HIV/AIDS education(1). The state mandates that a medically accurate sex-ed curriculum be set up for grades 8 through 12 (4). However, this content is not required to be age-appropriate or culturally appropriate, so there is plenty of room for bias. Through an opt-in policy, parents are given notice and have to consent to their child being taught sex-ed. This extra barrier of paperwork for parents/guardians can limit access in many ways. For instance, parents have two weeks prior to a scheduled lecture to sign the designated consent form, if it isn’t signed or returned with the child, then that student will not be permitted to that lesson.
Once again, Utah stresses abstinence and no premarital sex. New laws are giving educators the opportunity to use new language when discussing alternative contraceptive methods without posing the risk of endangering their jobs. Unfortunately, the curriculum does not discuss healthy relationships or consent. It is also not LGBTQ+ inclusive.
Here’s a fun fact for ya: Did you know that in Utah, sexual intercourse outside of marriage—even if it’s consensual, is illegal (4)? Though it was decriminalized in April 2019, it is still illegal. It was even last used in court in 1990.
What the kids are actually learning
While this may not be true for every district, a set course guide for the Salt Lake City School District makes training from Planned Parenthood a requirement before teaching any of the programs set in place. Sounds progressive!
There is also an annual state-sponsored course set up for any new educators. It highlights the outlines of the state curriculum and the Utah Code regarding the “teaching of human sexuality” (4). And, interestingly enough, “Elementary Core Curriculum” dictates that grades 3 through 6 are meant to learn about diseases and HIV/AIDS.
The outlines/stipulations for the state curriculum include the following (4):
1. No mention of the intricacies or the intimate bits of sexual intercourse or sexual stimulation
2. No inclusion of homosexuality
3. No encouragement to use alternative contraceptive methods or devices (even if a module in the curriculum is dedicated to providing students the information regarding them)
4. No advocacy of sex outside of marriage
A set of health curriculum requirements for the state of Utah is set here.
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
Learning about Utah has been a wild ride, so here’s a bit of relief.
IN-clued is a progressive program that supports the LGBTQ+ community and provides the youth of Utah with sexual healthcare and confidence in their sexual health (6). Because LGBTQ+ inclusive sex-ed doesn’t exist in the Salt Lake State yet, resources like IN-cluded are imperative.
Also, Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA) is a group founded with the intention of advancing a society in which “sexual violence is not tolerated,” which is much needed especially when comprehensive sex-ed is lacking (7).
Written by: Alex Shea
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute, December 3, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.
(2) HB0071. Accessed December 15, 2019. https://le.utah.gov/~2019/bills/static/HB0071.html.
(3) “Elevating Ignorance.” The Salt Lake Tribune, February 10, 2012. https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=53489960&itype=CMSID.
(4) “Utah. PDF,” n.d.
(5) “Human Sexuality Instruction Utah State Board of Education Policies. PDF,” n.d.
(6) “IN.clued: Inclusive Sex Ed Workshop.” Utah Pride Center. Accessed December 15, 2019. https://utahpridecenter.org/community_event/in-clued-inclusive-sex-ed-workshop/.
(7) “Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.” Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Accessed December 15, 2019. https://www.ucasa.org/.
(8) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.