As a lifelong resident of Utah, I am writing to express my concern over HB363 and am asking as a parent of teenage children that Gov. Gary Herbert please veto this sincere but misguided bill. For the past 15 years, I have taught courses on human development at a large private institution in Utah. I do not speak on behalf of my employer or its supporting institution, but as a private citizen and parent.
Part of the curriculum I teach is on human reproduction. Each semester, I take an informal survey asking how many students have talked with their parents about sex. Fewer than half of my students typically raise their hands. The reality is that many good families in Utah abdicate their role in teaching their children about sex, including the consequences and responsibilities associated with human sexuality.
My own parents waited until the night before my wedding to have a rather brief "talk" with me. While I appreciated their attempt, it came too late in my own development to help me through the confusing changes that coincide with adolescence.
Unfortunately, many youths are learning about sex from misinformed friends, media and other sources, including the Internet, where the dialogue is often devoid of any meaningful discussion about human relationships, birth control, sexually transmitted infections and the consequences of unplanned teen pregnancies. It is misguided to suggest that the absence of discussion about contraceptives, sexual intercourse and STIs in our schools is necessary or sufficient to deter kids from thinking about and engaging in sex.
A respectful dialogue on these matters may do more to appropriately encourage abstinence, especially when our children are well-informed and human sexuality is demystified for them. While it makes sense to encourage our youths to abstain, from a "public good" perspective, there is also compelling public good to arm our youths with accurate and complete information to help them make informed decisions regarding sex, especially when these decisions can have life-altering and generational consequences.
Research shows that what youth need to internalize behavioral standards is clear consistent messages coupled with adequate levels of information. This involves opportunities for a rational dialogue in which the individual child feels empowered to make informed decisions for himself or herself. Our schools are a safe place for such discussions to occur, especially in the absence of discussions in the home. An absence of any opportunity for respectful dialogue leaves open the possibility that our youth will be vulnerable to accepting the most persuasive messages they encounter, which today commonly comes in the form of popular media and friends.
In the past, when my own children attended classes at school on human sexuality, we found that this opened up additional opportunities for discussions in our home, including opportunities to reinforce our values in relation to sexuality. So, a question I have for Herbert is whether the state has a compelling interest to remove my right as a parent to decide what my child can be taught in public school on human sexuality? I appreciate that some parents may not share my views, but current law is respectful to these parents, allowing them to exercise their rights to opt-out of these discussions.
But what about the rights of many parents who want to opt-in to comprehensive sex education for their children? The groundswell of response would suggest that a plurality of parents prefer to retain their right to have comprehensive sex education available to their children in public schools. I sincerely ask as a Utah resident, parent and educator that Herbert will carefully weigh this bill and courageously decide to stand with the families of Utah and veto HB363 for the future physical, emotional and psychological well-being of our children.
Dr. Chris L. Porter is an associate professor of human development and neurosciences at Brigham Young University and the father of three teenage children who attend public schools in the Alpine School District.