There’s been a lot of buzz in Utah recently about another try at expanding the sex education topics Utah schools can teach. While some have called it a “comprehensive sex education bill”, the latest bill (HB 177) was actually only an expansion on the current abstinence-based sex education curriculum to include topic of consent and prevention of unwanted sexual behavior. In a nutshell, if the latest proposed bill had passed, Utah kids would have been able to receive one hour of consent education each year from grades 7 through 12 through the same OPT-IN sex education program currently in place in Utah schools.
While the bill did not pass, it’s a good chance for us to talk about two related topics.
First, let’s look at what comprehensive sex education is.
According to the Guttmacher institute, comprehensive sex education (CSE) is:
Teaching a broad range of issues relating to the physical, biological, emotional and social aspects of sexuality. This approach recognizes and accepts all people as sexual beings and is concerned with more than just the prevention of disease or pregnancy. CSE programs should be adapted to the age and stage of development of the target group. CSE must help young people to:
- ACQUIRE accurate information on sexual and reproductive rights, information to dispel myths, and references to resources and services.
- DEVELOP life skills including critical thinking, communication and negotiation, self-development and decision-making; sense of self; confidence; assertiveness; ability to take responsibility; ability to ask questions and seek help; and empathy.
- NURTURE positive attitudes and values, including open-mindedness, respect for self and others, positive self-worth/esteem, comfort, nonjudgmental attitude, sense of responsibility, and positive attitude toward their sexual and reproductive health.
Right now 19 states have implemented an abstinence-only based sex education curriculum, which certainly does not represent comprehensive sex education. Unfortunately, in those states as well others where sex education does go beyond abstinence-only, the topics of consent and healthy relationships are still not being taught.
Which brings us to our second important topic: consent.
Consent is a sexual health topic that has value and importance well beyond the realm of sex. Whether intentional or not, it is observed and learned at a very young age and is a subject that, when taught intentionally, can have very real and important benefits in life.
For example, when we teach our kids appropriate behavior about asking and giving permission in everyday life like, “Can I have a bite of your cake?” or “Can I borrow your headband?”, we are actually teaching consent. And if we can use situations like these to explain why asking and giving permission is important, our kids will be better prepared to navigate the more intimate and personal situations as they get older.
The take-aways for you today are: while states continue to navigate what sexual health information they will allow to be taught in schools, YOU can and should be intentional about what you’ll teach in your home. And while it’s only one part of comprehensive sex education, consent is a very important topic that can be taught early, often, and in everyday situations.
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