My Devices are Not My Religion: an Amy Rant
Trek Photo Album: a little teaser

Abstinence Only: another Amy Rant

Last Monday while I cleaned out my pantry I found myself talking to my radio. That's because I was listening to NPR and they were discussing a bill that was on the Utah senate floor. Bill HB363 goes something like this: Utah schools can only teach abstinence-only concepts for sex education. Nothing else. If students ask teachers about something otherthan abstinence? Teachers cannot respond. This bill was fueled by homeschoolers who didn't like the fact that some of Utah's current sex education comes from Planned Parenthood.

As I listened to the radio (and argued back), my fears started to calm a little bit because every. single. person who called in to the radio show was against the bill. This made me feel a bit better because A---if the average person doesn't want this bill to pass, it shouldn't, right? And B---it seems obvious and logical that almost every average person would agree that this bill is a ridiculous idea. How could our state legislators pass this bill?

Well. I was wrong. It passed.

And I am up in arms. Never mind the fact that if people actually voted on this bill it wouldn't, I believe, pass. Never mind the fact that the passing of bill HB363 reinforces my current deep discouragement over and deep mistrust in politics actually being about American (or Utah) citizens. What really got me going is the horribly flawed concepts behind such a bill. So today I am ranting. And I am hoping that if you live in Utah OR you care about what happens in Utah, you will write the governor TODAY and ask him to veto the bill. My rants, which might be surprising to my friends and neighbors but which I need to say anyway:

1. People in Utah are so afraid of abortion that they lose all common sense. Yes: Planned Parenthood provides abortions. They also provide other services that some people don't have access to in any other way. The reality is that the fear of abortion, or anything slightly linked to it, makes people forget that there are bigger issues at play here. The reality of life is that there are going to be accidental pregnancies. Teenagers, whose brains are still developing and who don't, in a physiological sense, always really understand the fact that they are not immune to bad things, are going to have sex. Some of them are going to get pregnant. Some of them are going to get abortions. 

People here tend to think that teenage pregnancy and abortion doesn't happen in the "good" families. I personally know two friends who came from those "good" families who had abortions. They both look at that time in their lives as one of their hardest and darkest. They also feel like they made the right decision.

Unlike perhaps most of my neighbors, I am pro-choice. That doesn't mean I'm pro-abortion; I don't think I would ever personally chose to have an abortion. But the important word in this debate isn't even abortion. It is CHOICE.  Having seen first hand the affects of someone choosing abortion, I know that the idea that this is a choice made lightly is completely false. It is a HARD choice and a life-long consequence, but so is any pregnancy. I think that until you have been in the shoes of a pregnant teenager, your opinions don't really count. I am also a adamant proponent of adoption, which is a choice that not enough pro-choice supports remember. I believe that in ideal situations, a pregnant teenager should have her baby and place it for adoption. But I also know that ideal situations aren't always in the cards. Sometimes teenagers chose abortion and that is simply life. Basing so many other decisions on the people who chose abortion is illogical.

2. One of the point of sex education should be preventing teenage pregnancy—to educate students so that they never have to chose between adoption, abortion, or becoming a teenage parent. Abstinence-only concepts will fail at this because of one basic fact: teenagers are going to have sex. Sure, in the (again) ideal world, none of them would. In the ideal world, they would know that what their bodies are capable of is a separate issue from what their minds, souls, and hearts are capable of. (Meaning: they are physically able to create a baby, but not emotionally able to parent that baby, let alone the financial aspects.)

Teenagers might look like young adults, but they are not. Think back to when you were a teenager and learning about your body. Did you really have an understanding of how it really all works? Of course not. You learned by doing. And some teenagers are going to do it. When they are in the heat of the moment, some of them will remember the abstinence-only education. Not all of them will, though. (Let's face it: how many adults could stop in the heat of the moment?) But maybe if they've also been educated about condoms they might go ahead and use one. Maybe the fear of STDs might stop them. Maybe knowing that they can get pregnant if it's their first time might stop them. Maybe understanding that just because they didn't get pregnant when they had sex with their last boyfriend doesn't mean they can't do so with this one will stop them.

3.  Abstinence-only cloaks sexuality in mystery. This is because it removes the ability to talk about sexuality. It makes it forbidden; HB363 literally makes it illegal for teachers to discuss anything about sex. Let's think about what makes something intriguing: mystery certainly does that. "Forbidden" does, too. It's the same concept as banning a book: people want to read that banned book simply because it is banned.

I believe that people should talk about sex. Teenagers should talk about sex with their parents. AND with their teachers. This is because of one shocking point: teenagers don't always listen to their parents. Having another adult in the world telling them that they CAN get pregnant if they have sex and they CAN catch diseases if they have sex reinforces their knowledge. Having another source of education means that they might be more likely to believe or to listen to what they are hearing.

Sex isn't bad. It doesn't need to be relegated to darkness. And, let's be honest here: the world does not relegate it to darkness. Nearly every TV show you can think of has sexuality in it. Music is sexual. Movies. Magazine ads. Walk down the mall and you're bombarded with sexual images. Telling kids to abstain until they're married won't make the rest of these images go away. Talking about it will help them know and understand what to do with the emotions that bombardment causes.

4. One of the supports of the bill said something like this. "If we teach our teenagers that abstinence is the best choice, but then we turn around and teach them how to get access to birth control, it's just like telling them that drugs are bad but then giving them a list of places where they could get heroin." Deep sigh.

Sex is dangerous. But, you know? I think heroin is worse. If this makes me a bad Mormon then I am a bad Mormon, but if I had to chose I would rather my teenager was sexually active than a drug addict. Or an alcoholic, for that matter. (Of course, I don't want them to be either. Which is why I talk to my kids about sex. And drugs. And even...rock and roll. ) This doesn't mean I am downplaying the risks and the emotional impact of adolescent sexuality. It does mean I know, first hand, the devastation that drugs and alcoholism cause, and it is worse. The fact that some well-meaning person can make that comparison speaks to the logic behind the bill.

5. One more personal truth. Deep down, I honestly don't believe that any sex education plan will be able to help ALL teenagers. There will always be teenage pregnancy because of the way that teenagers work. That is just reality. But to me this means we need to work even harder to educate them with the facts, because if our education can help even ONE teenager from getting pregnant, catching an STD, or going through the emotional consequences of having sex before he or she is emotionally ready, then our education has been successful for that teen.

In other words: education is only going to stop some teens from having sex. How many teens will abstinence only stop?

If you want to contact the governor and ask him to veto bill HB363, you can do so HERE.

(I hope those of you who know me in real life will still be my friend after reading my rant and my opinions.)

Comments

Vickie

I agree with some of your points. BUT- I have heard what some of my grown children were taught in high school about sex. If I could choose the teacher who would talk to my teenager, my opinion might be different. But since I can't choose the teacher- I would rather they only taught abstinence and leave the rest to me and my husband.

Kelley

Excellent rant. I'm just sorry that I can't do anything to help you (I'm in Australia. I'm guessing your governor isn't going to listen to me!)

I truly resent people taking away MY right to choose what's right for me.

Sandi

Thanks, Amy, for sharing your rant. It's especially appropriate on International Women's Day. I don't live in Utah, but I hope the governor vetos the bill.

(Vickie, you and your husband may provide perfectly adequate sex education in the home. But what about those parents that do not? And what about those children who are victims of incest in the home?)

Carla

I love your rants Amy! And once again, I love how you remind me that you can't place anyone in a box based on their religion, geographic location, race, job etc. Thanks for speaking your mind, and realizing that kids have minds (and hormones)too!

wendy

Just sent off my letter. I didn't read your whole post (short on time) so don't know if I agree with every word (which doesn't matter), but I certainly agree the governor should veto the bill. I was taught all about condoms & such in junior high in the 80's and the instruction never made me question the abstinence value my parents taught me. I totally agree that not teaching about options will breed more ignorance and will more likely increase the rates of teen pregnancy. Thanks for putting the link!

Megan B.

I agree with you. I am so, so sick of our state's legislature. Anyways, I called. I sure hope that his office is getting bombarded with calls for a veto.

Claudia McDaniel

Excellent post. The bill lacks what your opinion has an abundance of: reasonable logic. We were taught sex ed in school (but the district now has an abstinence program also) and my mom spoke to us about sex and asked that we abstain. We were treated like young adults who could be treated to understand the information we were given and make good decisions. I think we did. I think by talking about sex and consequences we abstained much longer than many teenagers are doing now. My parents weren't advocating for me to have sex by educating me. They were giving me information and still continued to guide us and ask for abstinence. When I finally decided to have sex, we used protection. When I was in college I took the pill. I was 27 before I had my first child. The sex ed, condoms, and pills didn't give me permission or make me think I could have sex with anyone and everyone in every place I wanted. It educated me to make good decisions about whom I had sex with and what we needed to do to protect from disease and/or pregnancy. I believe it made all the difference than letting me go out into the world not knowing anything. We must continue to give teenagers information. It's truly the only way!!

Heather H.

I'm glad I got abstinence-only education at school. My parents were good educators for what I needed and I really didn't want to know anything until I was in my 20s.

But I think students should have a place where they can at least ask questions and get honest answers.

Pat Passamonte

Bravo Amy!

You are really so insightful and eloquent. It's just too bad that logic and reason no longer have a place in politics! I'm with you 110%, and I know that expressing your views took courage.

Have a great weekend!

heidikins

Yes. This. Pro-choice and pro-abortion are not the same thing. (Why do so many people misunderstand that?!?)I don't even care if teenagers are not having sex, they need to learn about it from something other than YouTube and Hollywood movies. For every parent who carefully sits their kids down to talk to them about drugs and sex and the general woes of the world, there are 10 more who shove it under the rug and pretend it isn't an issue. Or, worse, shut the conversation before it is played out. How many things do we learn in high school that we will never really use in our adult life? Chemistry? The ancient history of Europe and the Americas? Calculus? The point is, it is important to know, even if you aren't using it past the test at the end of the term. I am absolutely pro-sex education in public school. It's a public health issue, not an abortion issue. Call it what it is, don't rant and rave and cause a media fire storm. Goodness.

Thank you for this.
xox

The Mrs.

yes. yes. yes. Yes to all of this. All of these issues have been on my mind lately. And I have finally solidified some things in myself. I'm grateful for Planned Parenthood. I am pro choice. Kids should have ALL the information about sex and it's wrong to with hold it. And I'm Mormon.

Feels like a paradox sometimes. Wish it didn't.

Kasandra Mathieson

What a great post Amy!!! So true....I remember sitting in RS when a wife of one of the Stake Presidency counselors passed around a petition for us to sign to take sex education out of the schools. I was so not happy, number one wrong place to do it and seriously that is an individual choice. Just because we are able to talk to our kids about sex doesn't mean every parent does and most don't....it's just important to know what is being taught. I totally agree with you, teenagers need all the information they can get from an adult that they trust and respect! Good luck from here in Canada!

Isabel

Here, here!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! (I hope you don't associate with the kind of people that would be upset with you for having thought and opinions.)

There is no way teenagers are going to listen when someone tells them to not have sex. The kids in Utah are already getting that at church and (I assume) at home and we can see how well that's working!

I think when people hear "sex education" they only see the "sex" part and not the "education" part. This isn't someone telling them what positions to use and how awesome sex is, it's educating them on how their bodies (the ones given to them by Heavenly Father) work so they have a better understanding of how to be in control of their own bodies. Heavenly Father made our bodies to like sex. That isn't wrong. Not even sort of. What is wrong is not being educated about our bodies and understanding how they work so we can make better educated life choices.

(Does this make any sense?)

Also, I'm not sure who this Heather H person is and not to try to offend her but she's got to be in the 1% of people who didn't want to know about sex. (Seriously, she didn't want to know until she was in her 20's?!) Clearly she didn't have a hott teenage boyfriend who she thought she loved and who sparked all sorts of feelings in her body. (Again, the body that Heavenly Father created and made to be able to have sparks created.)

Lucy

I left a comment days ago but must have forgotten to type in the word verification (he he). Anyways, can’t go into it all here but appreciate your post. Parents should have the right and choice to pull kids from classes they believe are counterproductive to their children’s welfare. BUT, middle schoolers and high schoolers need to have correct information about sex, their sexual health and the myriad of consequences about sex. Because some of them are having sex. And some of them have never and will never talk about it with their parents. Mormon kids and parents included.

Margot/NZ

Hear, hear to all you've said. Like an early commenter, I'm far from Utah and the USA (in New Zealand) so I doubt your governor would listen to me. Sure hope he listens to public opinion though - sounds like that is very much on the side of more rational legislation.

Kary in Colorado

i completely agree with you, Amy. I am in Colorado though, so it won't help your crusade. I am LDS as well, and I'm currently in our ward RS presidency (and have had this position a couple of times before) and if my experience is any indication, there are many long-married women who could use some serious sex education! The idea that these wonderful yet clueless women could give adequate sex education to their teenaged (or preferably younger) children is unrealistic. We as parents need to monitor what the school is teaching, but one thing the school can do effectively is motivate kids to ask their parents questions. There are far too many people who say that parents should do this, and then they themselves don't have the guts to breach the subject with their own children--especially in places like Utah!

Chris Selander

AMEN!! I completely agree with you. The bill makes my blood boil. I wrote to the governor. People need to face reality and realize not everyone has a perfect home life where they are given the information they need.

Lucy

Looks like Herbert read your blog post:)

Isabel

I heard on NPR this weekend that the governor vetoed the bill. HOORAY. I was so excited that I wanted to stop the car and text you!

Jamie

I read this post a few days ago and it I didn't' comment b/c I honestly wasn't sure what my opinions were on the bill. It made me want to know more and I have thought about it a lot. I feel like I am very open with my kids about sex and have told them I'm willing to talk about anything and we have had many conversations in this area but maybe there's other things they want to know and maybe they don't want to talk to me about it.... I don't know. It did cause me to have a conversation with my husband about the bill and my teenage daughter about the bill and what she has learned in school.

Some things I do know are that
I am not pro-choice. I believe the choice to not be pregnant begins with the choice to have or not have sex. of course I know there are situations where girls/women don't make that choice b/c they are abused and then I believe there should be options for their mental health if needed. However, I dont' feel different about you b/c we disagree. :)

I do believe that a teenager should be able to get information from their teacher if they ask for it. I dont' think a teacher should be kept from sharing knowledge.

I do believe that places like planned parenthood are good b/c so many of my friends growing up in California used their services for birth control and although we did live in Ca, it was a small town and our sex. ed in high school was very limited information. no condoms on bananas, etc, I dont' really remember any type of sex ed at all but the girls seemed to be well informed about planned parenthood. THey went for their appointments there and watched films about safe sex and got their birth control pills.

I wish they had made different choices and had higher standards b/c many of them regretted being sexually active in high school. It's so young! However, I'm glad they got some help & information somewhere b/c none of us were getting it from our parents. My parents are wonderful but they were never comfortable talking about sex when I was a teenager. I'm sure for my friends, it was very similar.

Anyway... thanks for your "rant" it was a good one and I appreciate the prodding to become more informed and have discussions with my family.

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