- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Democratic lawmaker is pushing a measure that would expand sex education in Utah schools, but the proposal is a longshot: conservative groups have already vowed to fight it.

“Comprehensive sex education is all about teaching children that it’s OK to have sex as long as they use a condom. It just doesn’t work,” said Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum.

She believes the state should stick with its abstinence-only curriculum, reported The Salt Lake Tribune (https://bit.ly/1TD716d ).

But House Minority Leader Brian King introduced a bill that would allow opt-in comprehensive sex education, and he says it’s necessary because sexually transmitted disease rates are rising quickly.

“Knowledge is power. I don’t believe in keeping our kids ignorant,” said King.

Ruzicka argues that abstinence-only education is the most effective curriculum because Utah ranks among the lowest in the nation whenit comes to STD and abortion rates.

Centers for Disease Control statistics from 2014 do show Utah coming in as 47th in the nation for chlamydia rates and 43rd for gonorrhea.

King was also right, however, about the surging disease rates. In 2011, there were 9.8 gonorrhea cases per 100,000 Utah residents. By 2014, that number had quintupled, reaching 49.7. Chlamydia rates rose from 251.5 cases to 283.5 cases in the same time period.

King said that while families “talk a good talk about having these discussions,” there are questions that teachers and health officials might be better equipped to answer. Children and their parents might also be uncomfortable discussing sexual relationships, he said.

“What’s the difference between gonorrhea and chlamydia? How do they manifest themselves? Can you get it from other types of sexual behavior that doesn’t involve intercourse?” said King, providing examples of questions better suited for health teachers.

“I don’t know the answers to those kinds of things and the kind of detail that public health officials do,” he said.

His bill would let parents decide whether their kids should participate in the classes.

Even so, Ruzicka said the measure is counter-productive.

“We have the best record anywhere, yet they keep trying to say, ‘No, we’ve got to teach children all of this stuff so they can protect themselves,’ when you are just encouraging them by saying, ‘We believe you’re having sex so we’ve got to teach you what you need to do when you have sex,’” she said.

King said it will be difficult to pass the bill in the state’s conservative legislature and acknowledged that it might require years of effort.

“We want to have a good dialogue. We need to educate people. We need to talk about the importance of doing this. We are going to be talking about this for a while,” he said.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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