There is a link between a lack of education and high rates of sexual violence.

There is a link between a lack of education and high rates of sexual violence.

(Alexie Zollinger | Amplify Utah) The Gender and Sexuality Student Resource Center and the Center for Health and Counseling offer sex education resources to students at Salt Lake Community College.

Ask anyone outside of Utah what their most vivid memory is from high school sex ed and they’ll probably say something about their teacher putting a condom on a banana. Ask anyone who grew up in Utah, myself included, and their likely answer is, “Health classes? What was that?”

Nowhere in the United States is solid sexual health and consent education more important than in schools in Utah, where in 2019 7.3% of high school students was physically forced to have sex. Unfortunately, Utah has the badge for one of the highest rape rates in the nation, with one in six women and one in 25 men reporting their experience.

Utah desperately needs curriculum reform to bring these rates down. Lawmakers who oversee public school curricula must include consent in the public education system’s sexual health education program.

Existing health courses in Utah are ineffective and center around the state-mandated Abstinence Plus curriculum. Under this system, topical lessons may include information about contraception and condoms, but must always promote abstinence first. Such a requirement deprives students of access to information they need, including a more solid understanding of healthy relationships and rejection skills.

Abstinence can be an effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STDs, but only when coupled with other critical issues such as consent, which the current Utah curriculum lacks. As a result, students leave high school unprepared for the world.

Instead of improving sex education, the Utah legislature and lobby groups try to weaken it every year. (Yes, to make it even more inappropriate than it already is.) Last year was no different.

As of February 2021, the Utah Legislature neither a House or a Senate bill that would have enhanced the current curriculum. The proposed bills added what constitutes consent and what does not, outlined “education to prevent sexual violence,” and included new strategies for preventing sexual assault.

People of all ages, religions and genders have boldly supported the bill, myself included, yet lawmakers supported the minority of voices that claimed that omitting consent language was the only way to encourage “premarital abstinence and fidelity thereafter.” . ”

There is a problem when state constituents fail to see the connection between a lack of education and high rates of sexual violence. Instead of acting in the student’s best interest, state officials and school board members represent wrongly claim that consenting to teaching leads to unwanted pregnancy, infidelity, and more generally increased sexual activity.

If students are not taught that they agree or simply what a healthy relationship looks like, young people will lack communication skills in relationships. Teaching consent does not result in teens having sex, but failure to teach consent guarantees they have inadequate sexual assault mitigation skills, putting them at unnecessary risk.

There is plenty proof Supporting the Advanced Sex Education curriculum reduces unwanted pregnancy and intimate partner violence and empowers students to practice empathy and healthy choices. Without a reformed system that includes consent, the history of sexual assault in Utah will only continue.

Schools can provide a safe environment for learning consistent and comprehensive health education, but only if the law allows them to do so. Although resources such as nonprofit community centers, parenting services, and the Internet exist, there is no guarantee that Utah students will have access to these resources. Therefore, Utah must include sexual assault prevention strategies and consent instructions for students in the public school system.

The Healthy Living curriculum helps students better communicate with family, peers, and teachers about issues affecting their health and relationships, and helps young Utahans make informed, thoughtful decisions about their lives.

The welfare of Utah students who become Utah adults is in the hands of the legislature. It is up to them to implement consent guidelines into the Utah health education curriculum. Right now, it’s up to us as voters to advocate for accurate, age-appropriate sex education lessons that will benefit future generations of Utah.

McCall James, a native of Salt Lake City, is a Master of Public Health candidate at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

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