This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah teens and their families are living in another desert of sorts an information desert about human sexuality. Kids thirsting for information about this most basic topic will keep looking until they find it, even if it means going to an internet porn site.
When Gov. Gary Herbert signed resolution S.C.R.9 declaring pornography a "health crisis" on the heels of defeated legislation that would have enhanced sex education in Utah, the state effectively wiped out the ability for teens and families to get access to quality information locally.
With the alarming rise of sexually transmitted infections, as reported by the CDC, it's more crucial than ever to provide quality sex education. Instead, Utah has unintentionally created a scenario in which the very thing the Legislature is hoping to avoid internet porn use among kids and teens is almost the only option available for information. And, we all know most pornography isn't even close to reality, especially the reality parents would like their kids to know.
Moreover, by stating that pornography is something "the individual cannot overcome without assistance" (S.C.R. 9) we further damage a teen's ability to seek education and help by labeling him or her an "addict" from the beginning. Even the American Psychiatric Association has declined to include "sex addict" as an official diagnosis in the DSM-5 due to inconclusive research.
The fact that the Utah Legislature decided to base a resolution lacking crucial evidence is irresponsible and diverts attention from the real issue delivering quality information to an underserved population.
Utah is officially an abstinence-based state, with the option of teaching abstinence-only. The four largest school districts in Utah currently follow the abstinence-only method, preferring students learn the majority of sex education concepts at home.
But what if a teen lacks parents willing to supply comprehensive sex education? Or lacks parents at all? What if the teen is living a lifestyle contrary to his or her parents' values? Should teens have their physical and mental health jeopardized because circumstances prevent them from accessing needed information? Making matters worse, research is now demonstrating abstinence-only programs simply aren't effective.
We are the first generation of parents and grandparents having to parent in the digital age. It's challenging and messy, but I believe Utah parents truly want what's best for their children. As the grown-ups at the table, there is much more we can do to promote the sexual health of our young people. It's time to get over our own discomfort and bring community leaders, parents, legislators and educators together for a real discussion about what we can do to best support our youth.
As a sex educator, I've talked with many parents and teens who feel uncertain about where to look for resources and are fearful of searching for information on the internet because of what they might find. Let's help them by creating a community where correct information can be shared instead of feared.
Pornography is not going away. The internet is not going away. Sex is not going away. And yet, the way Utah is handling sex education, we're sending them out to navigate this ever-changing desert landscape on their own.
Instead of empowering them to make informed choices regarding crucial concepts regarding consent and boundaries, relationships, contraception, healthy and safe sexual activity and tolerance, we persist in pretending that if we just keep our eyes shut long enough, somehow we'll find our way out of the desert of our own making.
Alisha Worthington is a sex educator, author and graduate student at the USC Suzanne Dwvorak-Peck School of Social Work. She is also a mother of seven who lives in Midvale.