SALT LAKE CITY — Pornography's harms and refusal skills are key components of a revised sex education bill, HB286, now before the Utah House of Representatives.
Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, said state lawmakers in the 2016 legislative session declared pornography a public health crisis.
"We haven’t done a lot with it since then. This really is an important step," said Fawson, sponsor of HB286.
The bill's supporters included Miriam Hall, Miss Springville-Mapleton 2017, whose pageant service platform is “Education on the Harms of Pornography.”
Pornography is no longer just a matter of morality, Hall said. "It’s become a matter of public health.”
Hall, a high school senior, said she was 11 years old when she was exposed to pornography.
"I just felt dirty, and I felt scared," she told lawmakers. "I was ashamed of what I had seen."
After many comforting conversations with her parents, Hall said she was able to heal. But countless others live with shame and in silence, something she said can change through education and public awareness.
Melissa McKay, a stay-at-home mother of five children, said she asked Fawson to include instruction about the harmful effects of pornography in the legislation because it has become increasingly difficult to protect children, many of whom carry telephones with internet access.
"This generation is the porn-in-their-pocket generation," McKay said.
The bill also includes a provision encouraging local school boards to review health data specific to their districts or communities on teen pregnancy, child sexual abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and "the number of pornography complaints or other instances reported within the jurisdiction of the local school board."
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said she's generally supportive of HB286 but takes exception to the use of the words "unwanted sexual advances" in the section of the bill calling for instruction on refusal skills.
Children "should be taught to refuse all sexual advances," she said.
The committee discussed removing the word "unwanted" but ultimately decided it would remain.
Fawson said it is important to distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual actions.
"In our day and age, refusal skills — teaching kids that 'no means no,' teaching kids how to say 'no,' teaching kids to vocalize 'no,' and making it absolutely clear to an aggressor that they are not willing, not consenting, and in many cases can't consent anyway — is, I think, a critical skill for our kids to learn and to use both in their teenage years and throughout their lives," he said.
The latest version of HB286 was unanimously endorsed by the House Education Committee on Tuesday and referred to the full House for its consideration.1 comment on this story
If the bill passes, the two areas would become part of the state sex education curriculum, but school districts and charter schools can adopt the state curriculum or select other instructional materials that comply with State School Board rules.
An earlier version of the bill called for creation of optional, web-based lessons as an alternative to classroom instruction on human sexuality. The modules could have been used by parents as resources, he said.
Fawson said he moved away from that approach over concerns about cost and development requirements.