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There is only one thing worse than the kind of tepid, inadequate sex education that teenagers receive in Utah public schools. And that's no sex education at all.

But that's exactly what Rep. Bill Wright is proposing, with the strong arm of Gayle Ruzicka behind him. Wright, a Republican and dairy farmer from Holden, and Ruzicka, longtime leader of the ultraconservative Eagle Forum, want to allow school districts to drop sex education from the curriculum.

But what Wright and Ruzicka really wanted was to ban any information at all on contraception, and any discussion about homosexuality or sex outside marriage, from all Utah public schools. But the House Education Committee amended the original HB363 to eliminate that onerous provision.

Nevertheless, what remains is an affront to all sensible Utah educators and parents. Utah law already makes it difficult for teachers to provide students with the information necessary to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy. If a teacher slips up and says too much about contraception, or appears to endorse any birth control method other than abstinence, he or she could be in trouble.

Unfortunately, to avoid that threat, or to cave in to the demands of some parents, some school districts might do as HB393 allows and eliminate sex-education classes entirely, when what's needed is more education, not less. The rise in STDs among Utah teens and surveys that show their woeful ignorance about sex and its consequences are evidence that Utah students are being shortchanged in this important subject.

Teaching abstinence-only is not sex education. It's Sunday school. It ignores the reality that teenagers are sexual beings, curious sexual beings. And it leaves them to experiment, using information they've gleaned from rest room talk, rumor and myth. Wright argued that limiting sex education to abstinence-only is like math: "We teach that 2 plus 2 equals 4; we don't teach alternatives." But even this weak analogy is wrong. We do teach alternatives: 3 plus 1 also equals 4. Abstinence is one way to avoid STDs and pregnancy, but there are others, and our teenagers deserve to know all the facts.

Providing factual information about sex does not, as some contend, promote promiscuity. But it does foster better health and protects the futures of teens who, without that knowledge, might ruin their lives with unwanted, unwed pregnancy or sterility-producing disease.

HB393 is an abomination. It should be defeated.