SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Fewer Utah high school students receive sex education lessons about condom use than their counterparts in almost every other state, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control.
About 11 percent of students in public secondary schools were taught about the effectiveness of condoms, where to obtain them and the importance of using them consistently and correctly, according to a story in The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week. That percentage was the lowest among the 45 states surveyed by the CDC.
The numbers are not surprising because Utah's laws are quite restrictive, said Cougar Hall, a Brigham Young University professor who trains health teachers. Parental approval is required for sex education classes, and teachers cannot advocate or encourage the use of condoms.
Still, about 12 percent of teachers are telling students where to obtain condoms, which Hall said is something he would discourage. Instead, the teacher should tell the student to ask their parents.
"I just think that would get you in hot water, and I think a parent could actually say, 'I think you've crossed a line, and you are encouraging use or advocacy of contraception,'" Hall said.
On the other hand, Hall said he has watched many teachers who are afraid to even use the word "condom" during a classroom discussion because of the potential for trouble. While he understands that the law is reflecting societal values, he said the CDC report makes Utah's curriculum appear "unresponsive to the numbers of adolescents that are sexually active."
Earlier this year, Utah lawmakers tried to tighten the state laws even further by passing a bill that would only permit schools to teach abstinence in sex education. It also allowed school districts to forego sex education altogether.
Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed the bill last month after hundreds of people voiced opposition. It is unlikely that legislators will be able to secure enough votes for an override.
The low numbers for condom education were great news to abstinence-only advocates such as Dalane England of the Utah Eagle Forum.
"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."
But Karrie Galloway, CEO of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said teens are still having sex. By avoiding discussions about birth control and contraceptives, they are putting the teens at risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
"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?'"