Monday, February 27, 2012

Utah's Abstinence Bill: Ignorance is NOT Bliss

Oh my HELL!


I was planning on writing something fun and light-hearted that has been on my mind for some time now but, because the ignorant are out in force (and also seem to be running my state), I have decided to share an amended post I am simultaneously posting on my personal blog. You should probably grab a drink and a bag of popcorn; this is going to be a long one…

SEX is a three letter word that strikes fear into the hearts and minds of parents everywhere. Okay, maybe not all parents but most parents in Utah. And when I say most parents in Utah, I mean most Mormon parents. Not all Mormon parents, just most of them.

The sexual education I received while attending school in Utah was deplorable. Not only was it inadequate, it was nearly nonexistent. The only thing I took away from my health courses’ units on sex were horrible images of men’s penises covered in Herpes and Chlamydia. Those images will be forever burned into my mind (and not in a good way).

As a teenager, I remember hearing horror stories about kids I went to school with doing unmentionable things WITH unmentionable things (for example, one of the varsity basketball players liked to cover his penis in peanut butter and allow his dog to fellate him – as a varsity athlete I heard this first hand from the source).

Young men and women were also manipulated by their significant others to participate in sexual activities that they didn’t know were sexual activities until it was too late. A friend of mine was wooed by his girlfriend into the girl’s bathroom and they proceeded to finger each other; a member of the faculty heard the ordeal and walked in on the scene. The girlfriend cried rape and framed my friend to save her own skin (she later joked to me and many others that she was so lucky she didn’t get in trouble and how smart she was to tell them it was all her boyfriend’s fault). A short time later, the administration of the local junior high came to my stake presidency and bishopric and asked them to tell the young men and women that oral sex is still a type of sex and should not be performed anywhere on campus.

Finally, I saw more and more students turn to pornography and other unsavory sources to get answers to their questions because parents were too afraid to discuss such taboo subjects and educators were legally unable to – even I got caught with my hand in the proverbial cookie jar doing some “research” at the public library… Really, I was, trying to find answers but still very awkward for me and the poor librarian.

It’s been almost ten years since I graduated high school and the Internet and other media resources are available more than ever. And, now, self-righteous, overly zealous, ignorant Utah lawmakers have taken it upon themselves to further limit the sexual education today’s youth are receiving (read the full, amended bill here). House Bill 363, also known as the Abstinence Bill, has been approved by the state’s Education Committee and has already passed by majority vote in the state’s House of Representatives. This bill, if passed, will make abstinence the only approved sexual information that educators can legally discuss in the classroom and even allows schools and districts to opt out of teaching any form of sex education if they so choose.

I encourage you to read the bill in its entirety but if you can’t, the core of the bill is as follows:

“Human sexuality instruction or instructional programs shall teach and stress:

- The importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage as the only sure methods of preventing certain communicable diseases;

- Personal skills that encourage individual choice of abstinence and fidelity.

- Human sexuality instruction or instructional programs may not include instruction or advocacy of:

o The intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation, or erotic behavior;

o Homosexuality;

o The use of contraceptive methods or devices; or

o Sexual activity outside of marriage.

- An instructor may respond to a spontaneous question as long as the response is consistent with the provisions of this section.”

The provisions listed above are taken verbatim (including bold and underlined font) from the amended bill that is waiting for the state Senate’s vote.

You heard me. Teachers cannot discuss or even respond to questions about what sex is and is not, they cannot acknowledge the existence of homosexuality, they cannot advocate safe sex practices through effective contraceptive methods or devices. They cannot do ANYTHING but tell students to keep “it” in their pants until they're married and then encourage them to screw like rabbits.

We live in the information age where sexuality, in all of its forms, is being broadcast across every media venue available. If we don’t stand up as individuals, parents, and educators to effectively teach our children the integral part sexuality plays in the human condition, they will find their answers elsewhere. One only needs to open a magazine, the newspaper, turn on the television, watch a movie, or browse the Internet to gain a very broad education on the topic of human sexuality.

And, furthermore, gay students already have an uphill battle, how dare any politician or person anywhere deny a child’s opportunity to find out more about who or what they are. If one in ten people are gay, at least three students will be silently crying inside in every one of these health classes during these lessons. Most of them, ESPECIALLY in Utah, will already be fighting to reconcile who they are and how they fit in with their sexuality. This, more than anything, breaks my heart.

Below you will find a copy of an e-mail I sent to the state senator that represents my constituency. I hope you take the time to share your disappointment in this bill by opening up dialogue with your Utah state senators, too.

______ ________

Utah State Senator

District _ _


Dear Senator_________ –

I am writing this letter to share my disappointment and, frankly, my dissatisfaction with the State Education Committee and the State House of Representatives approval of House Bill 363 (HB 363), better known as the Abstinence Bill.

I grew up a member of the state’s dominant religion and I was taught the principles of abstinence from day one. I was also fortunate enough to have a European mother who was practical enough to teach me what sex was and how integral sexuality is to the human condition. She never advocated sex (with or without contraceptives) before marriage but there was never a lack in open dialogue surrounding the subject. I knew what a condom was, I knew what the pill was, I knew the dangers of contracting sexual disease, and I knew what homosexuality was. I had an understanding of what sexuality is and how it could affect me – both positively and negatively.

As I progressed through junior high and high school, I was confused by the sexual education units that were given during my required health courses. While in those classes, I learned what a tampon was, how a woman’s period worked, the natural progression of puberty for both males and females, and the incredibly high likelihood I would be smitten with Chlamydia, Herpes, or AIDS if I was to give into the wiles of sexual passion prior to marriage. While this was incredibly interesting (albeit terrifying) to my teenage self, it was also defeating the purpose of sexual education – the teachers never discussed sex! As I sat in those classes, it became very apparent I was one of the few who understood what intercourse was and how a person could become infected with these heinous diseases. This was (and still is) unacceptable and the new law (HB 363), if passed, will limit essential information for today’s youth even more.

It is ignorant and irresponsible to believe that any and all sexual education is happening in our community’s homes. I truly wish that everyone I knew growing up had the privilege of having a parent as open and honest as my mother, but my experiences at Bingham High School a decade ago, along with the shameful ignorance of my fellow students at BYU, clearly illustrated to me the severe gap in understanding our community has between what they are taught at home and in the classroom and their wedding nights.

To conclude, the Internet will more than satiate the curiosity of today’s youngsters if parents AND educators do not step up to the plate and teach children and teenagers about an integral part of being human. Teenagers are a veritable petri dish of hormones and if they don’t get the answers they need from respectable sources they will turn to pornography and get an even more distorted version of how beautiful and wonderful sexual activity can be under appropriate circumstances.

I urge you senator, please vote against this oppressive bill and advocate for better education for our youth. Vote to allow teachers to answer their students’ questions and supplement the sub-par education that students are (or aren’t) getting at home. Ignorance is not bliss.

If you would like to discuss this issue or have any questions for me, please let me know. I am always willing to discuss the issues that affect our state and our community.

Best regards,

_______ _. ______

__ ___ ______ _____

____ ______, Utah

Anyway, I wish you all the best this week and send you all my love!

Cheers my friends,



  1. Wow, MJ. Awesome post. And I couldn't agree more. I've been contemplating the "communication" problem regarding a lot of things lately, including this, and frankly it just pisses me off. In my mind, home would ideally be the place to learn about sex. Parent's should stand up, take the responsibility of educating their children and break the silence that surrounds the sex topic. But there is a serious lack of talk that happens. I never learned about it at home. It was brushed over lightly once and never spoken of again. My parents made it clear that questions weren't welcome. Their silence on the topic of sex reinforced in my mind the idea that sex was bad, that the things I was feeling were also bad, and that acting on those feelings was even worse. School did nothing to further my education. By passing this bill, lawmakers will just be further emphasizing the idea that sex is evil, when really, it's not. I think the lack of communication is what is causing the problems, because, as you said, kids will turn elsewhere for information. What is their silence protecting? Their pride?? Their comfort??

    1. Thanks Jo! My understanding of sexuality was good but my understanding of who I am was severely lacking. My parents are firmly rooted in their belief that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and that increased attention that the LGBT community is getting is a direct result of it becoming "fashionable" to be gay. That it's just a cultural phase...

      So heterosexual sex ed was great at home but it didn't do much to appease my ever-growing apprehension for my inner struggles. Even now I am terrified do discuss anything to do with homosexuality with my parents. Sooner or later their education will come, just as soon as I can break my own personal silence and quit protecting their pride and their comfort...

      Thanks for reading, Jo!

    2. Good luck, MJ! I'm coming out to my family this week, so I know how scary it is to think about that, especially if your parents are shy to even think of it as something that's real and not a phase to begin with. But I'm crossing my fingers for you!

      And, agreed with Jo. Amazing post! This bill really saddens me. I see what they're trying to accomplish, but reality check: this will make things worse. Just look at Spring Awakening. Not talking about it doesn't stop it from happening; it just makes it even harder for teenagers to be safe about it when it does happen. And that's hard enough to begin with... I could explain the whole process as I learned it in my neuroscience classes and pull in facts from HIV-prevention books I've read, but we all know the basics: teenagers are super emotional, hormones are high, rational thinking can be low, and things can happen quickly. And trying to prevent teenagers from having sex by cutting them off from information and condoms will really just increase the chances of problems. Because nobody can choose for them. I understand not wanting to encourage them; I don't want to encourage them either. But making communication on the matter a crime is not the answer. Thanks for getting the word out on this! I should contact my senator as well.

    3. L. Fauset, best of luck and please keep us posted on how coming out goes for you. I would love to hear more of your story and I hope to be able to hear some of your journey as you come into yourself.

      Thanks for reading and I truly hope you reach out to your senator as well. We NEED more education out there or we are going to fall far too short on meeting the needs of today's youth.

    4. MJ, I'm working on the senator! And thank you for the luck. :-) It's going well so far. My little sister is awesome. As far as the journey goes, I think it'll be interesting to see how my perception of this journey changes in the aftermath of coming out to my family. I mostly feel like I already know who I am, where I'm going, etc. and that my process is about done. But I could always be wrong, so we'll see.

      I'd love to hear more of your story as well and your journey! So I'm looking forward to more blog posts. :-)

    5. L., Whoa! coming out to your family! that's a big step. lots of good luck.
      I think it's funny, though, that you say you're process is about done... hahahaha. Sweetie, you're just getting started--even if you're happy with yourself. I don't think the process ever ends.

  2. L, best of luck. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help. :)

    This lack of education just makes me want to flip a table. I can't believe that people feel the need to hide information away. Isn't that the antithesis of education? D:<

    1. Thanks, AKB! It's going well so far. Sis down, parents to go...

    2. AKB, when I started getting all of the info on this bill I was at work. Let me just say I got a lot of weird looks from my co-workers when I picked up the receiver on my phone and began smacking it REPEATEDLY on my desk. No joke or exaggeration. I was that pissed off.

  3. ew. ew. ew. EW. only in Utah. I mean, really? making it WRONG for EDUCATORS to talk about sex ed?
    I don't remember my mom ever really talking to me about sex. I didn't learn a damn thing in any health class. But, I will say this: I had the best biology teacher in existence. I learned all about sex and about different ways to prevent std's and pregnancy from that teacher. He was LDS just like the rest of my town and state, and he encouraged abstinence until marriage as his own personal standards, but he answered our questions. He told us what kinds of things were out there at least.

    MJ, I've never actually sent a letter to my senator or anything, but this warrants some experimenting for me. How do I figure out who my senator even is? And how to find where to send the letter?
    Also, do you know when this bill will be voted on? I hate political things, but I'm not about to let them fuck up education even more than they have already.

    1. I forgot to hit "reply" - please see below!

  4. Okay, this really pisses me off. Seriously. I want to round up a bunch of pregnant teenagers and drop them off on the porch of whoever came up with this bill. You know what those teens would say? They didn't know what they were getting into. If only someone had told them about being safe, about being prepared, about how their bodies would feel once they even got close to someone they're attracted to. I need to write a fucking letter, too. This is ridiculous. How can anyone think this is doing any good at all? What is the good? I can't think of a single reason to tell kids they can't ask questions and that they should just be celibate. Abstinence may be an "ideal" form of birth control and std prevention, but who the hell ISN'T going to have SEX? really? This is bull shit.
    Thanks for sharing, MJ.

    1. Thanks to you, Ry. I'll be honest, your post last week paved the way for my rant this week! I listed the senator contact info below and I would encourage you to take 10 minutes and share your thoughts with your local rep. Thanks for all you do!

  5. Tiff - Here is what I have:

    List of State Senators:

    This is how you can find out who your state Senator is: (you can even type in your address!)

    I cannot tell you when the vote on this Bill in the Senate is... The damn State Government's Website hasn't updated its Bill section since 2010. Anyway, I know it moved from the House to the Senate six days ago and the Senate is supposed to break for Spring Recess on March 8th so it's safe to assume they will vote before then.

    As for sending a letter off? If you discover who your local Senator is, you can click on their profile and it will give you their direct e-mail (which is what I did) or you can mail a letter directly to his/her house.

    I am so glad to hear you had a phenomenal teacher who was willing to be the firm foundation you needed and I sure as hell hope we can find others like him or our future's fucked.

    Let me know how your new-found political activism goes!

  6. Agreed. I'm 12 and I just moved from Las Vegas to Alpine, Utah. The ignorance of these high school students amazes me...