This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah has the lowest percentage of high schools teaching teens about condoms among 45 states, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2010 in Utah, 11.3 percent of public secondary schools taught kids about the efficacy of condoms, how to get them and the importance of using them consistently and correctly, according to the report. That was the lowest percentage of schools teaching teens about all three of those topics out of 45 states surveyed.
It's a ranking Cougar Hall, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University who trains health teachers, said isn't surprising, given Utah's laws.
"According to our state policy, we can't advocate for or encourage the use of condoms," Hall said. "That violates the law."
Utah law allows schools to teach teens about contraception but forbids teachers from encouraging or advocating its use. Utah school districts are allowed to choose between abstinence-only or abstinence-based curriculum, and parents must give permission for their kids to attend sex education classes. Four sizable Utah school districts already teach abstinence-only, which might skew percentages in the report, noted Frank Wojtech, health and physical education specialist at the State Office of Education.
Legislators have attempted to change the law over the years. Gov. Gary Herbert recently vetoed a bill that would have allowed school districts to drop sex education altogether and would have prohibited instruction in contraception in districts that kept it. The veto followed widespread anger over the bill, including a protest at the Capitol, a petition signed by tens of thousands, and thousands of letters and phone calls to the governor's office.
Karrie Galloway, CEO of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said that while adults have been fighting over what should and shouldn't be taught about sex in the classroom, "teens are making their own decisions."
In 2009, 46 percent of teens nationally reported to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System that they had sex. Utah is one of several states that does not ask teens about sexual activity. Idaho had the nation's lowest rate at 39 percent.
Galloway called the 11.3 percent condom-education figure in the report "abysmal."
"Why are we leaving our young people that uneducated on a critical public health issue?" Galloway asked. "Take the morality out of it. Focus on it as a public health issue and say, 'Do we want our kids this ignorant?'"
Utah's highest rates of the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia in 2010 were among girls ages 15 to 19, according to the Utah Department of Health.
But Dalane England, vice president over issues for the Utah Eagle Forum, called the numbers, on the whole, "great news."
"The more you talk about sex as something so sacred and so intimate and personal when you talk about that in a public setting you're going to get more of it," England said. "When you talk about abstinence-only … you get more abstinence."
England, however, called it "disappointing and shocking" that any Utah schools are teaching kids about how to obtain condoms, saying that is against state law. According to the report, 12.4 percent of Utah secondary schools reported teaching teens about how to obtain condoms.
Hall said that 12.4 percent figure might be the biggest surprise of the report. Because of state law, he said he would likely advise teachers not to talk about where to get condoms.
"I just think that would get you in hot water," Hall said, "and I think a parent could actually say, 'I think you've crossed a line, and you are encouraging use or advocacy of contraception.'"
He said he'd urge teachers who are asked questions about where to get condoms to encourage kids to ask their parents instead.
Personally, Hall said he feels schools should advocate to students the correct and consistent use of condoms, "but I teach in Utah and these are the laws and we're trying to be culturally responsive and sensitive but there's no question this report from CDC makes us look like our policy and our curriculum are unresponsive to the numbers of adolescents that are sexually active."
Hall said most teachers he observes for his job avoid talking about condoms entirely. "They're very fearful that if they mention the word, it will be interpreted as encouragement or advocacy."
Wojtech, with the State Office of Education, said that while talking about the efficacy of condoms is legal in Utah,he thinks most teachers would likely shy away from discussions about how to obtain condoms or the importance of using them consistently and correctly.He said schools that are teaching those topics might be doing so because they're within materials approved by local committees.
"I think that edges a little bit closer to advocacy," Wojtech said. "I think information is always the very best but we are limited by state law in this state, and I still think we are ahead when whatever we teach has to be OK'd by parents."
To see more data on sex education
To see data on how various topics within sex education are taught in Utah and elsewhere, read the new report.