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Committee votes to keep sex education focused on abstinence only



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah lawmakers sent a strong message about sex education policy Wednesday: A joint Senate/House committee voted on a resolution not to change the current emphasis on abstinence.

That vote came at a time when a lot of people are asking for changes.

It was a recommendation awkwardly introduced and quickly passed, basically rejecting Planned Parenthood's efforts to change how sex education is taught in schools. Lawmakers stumbled as they searched for the right words to trump a two-hour meeting.

In his motion, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangville, said, "To urge the Legislature not to consider any person or organization that promotes or recommends high risk sexual behavior, websites, examples or talks in public schools."

That was the end result. It appeared to be aimed at Planned Parenthood, which is very involved in sex education.

"There's just this real fear factor, and that's what came out today is this real fear of even having this conversation," Melissa Bird with Planned Parenthood said.

Bird has been working with lawmakers on a bill to create a two-track system: Optional abstinence-based, or more detailed sex education. But most of the committee, co-chaired by conservative Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, was unmovable.

An out-of-state psychiatrist spoke in support of abstinence only.

Psychiatrist Miriam Grossman said, "The goal of these programs is not to fight sexual disease. It is to create a society that tolerates, indeed celebrates, any kind of sexual activity."

This discussion of sex education in Utah also revealed the delicate balance educators try to find.

Brenda Hales, with the State Board of Education, said, "Is this a perfect system? No. But given the constraints that we have, we feel like we're doing the best that we can."

That best isn't good enough, according to one young man who claims the current system has failed him.

He said, "Condoms, I don't know how effective they are. I don't know about the health issues. We haven't discussed that here at all, and it was never discussed in any of my classes."

Right now, an actual bill to change sex education in Utah doesn't exist; it's just an idea. There are still lawmakers interested in that.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

Richard Piatt

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