Poll: Utahns Want Comprehensive Sex-Ed Instead of Abstinence Only

Nearly two-thirds of Utahns want the option of comprehensive sex education for children in public schools, a new UtahPolicy poll shows.

Thursday the House Rules Committee, in a split vote, allowed Rep. Brian King’s HB246 go out to the House Public Education Standing Committee for a public hearing.

It was a bit of a surprise vote, as three Republicans on the powerful Rules Committee joined two Democrats to allow the bill to be heard.

King, D-Salt Lake, is the Minority Leader of the House, and as such is fighting several power-play issues in the current 2016 session.

“I worked the Rules Committee members pretty hard,” King told UtahPolicy, adding he’s glad to see such overwhelming public support for his sex ed bill.

Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found:

  • 64 percent of Utahns favor comprehensive sex education in public schools.
  • 25 percent said they prefer abstinence from sex as the only sex education (most schools districts have this form of the curriculum).
  • 6 percent mentioned some other kind of sex education for public school kids.
  • And 5 percent didn’t know.

King explained that his bill has two basic parts:

First, parents of school-age children would have the chance to “opt in” for comprehensive sex education classes, which would include teaching about methods of contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases, family planning, and associated issues.

“And this is the critical point,” said King. “Parents must take an action to pick this (education) for their children; it wouldn’t happen otherwise.”

“It is only an option for parents.”

Second, by removing abstinence only current law, Utah would become eligible for 90-10 federal sex ed/family planning grants.

Utah would have to pick up 10 percent of the new low-income/Medicaid folks and programs for them; the federal government would pay 90 percent.

Between the State Board of Education creating the opt-in sex ed curriculum and the 10 percent Medicaid/sex ed/family planning monies, King’s bill would cost the state around $500,000 a year, legislative budget staffers say.

Thus, not only does King have to fight the conservative, anti-sex ed folks at the Legislature, he also has to get the GOP majority to allocate the $500,000.

“I would think some of the libertarian-type (Republicans) would want my bill – let parents decide what is best for their children,” said King, not the government make that decision.

Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, in the Rules Committee debate, made the motion to hold HB246 – which would in effect kill it.

Talking about the bill, Schultz said: “This is sex education on steroids.”

Rather an odd characterization, replied Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay.

“There is not a lot of support for this change,” said Shultz, smiling.

“Let the (Education Committee) allow the public to speak on this,” said Moss.

Schultz’s motion failed, 3-5.

Rules Committee Chairman Mike Noel, R-Kanab, joked that his kids didn’t need sex ed in their public schools.

“We just let them watch the bulls and cows on my ranch,” said Noel. “Then told the kids, be careful, don’t do that” until they are married.

In his new poll, Jones finds that even half of Utah Republicans favor allowing comprehensive sex education in public schools:

  • 50 percent of Republicans favor broadening sex education if parents want it, 37 percent want the current abstinence-only.
  • Democrats really support comprehensive sex ed, 95-2 percent over abstinence.
  • Political independents favor comprehensive sex ed, 73-17 percent.

As might be expected, younger Utahns who have just gone through the abstinence-only courses want better sex education.

Those 18-24 years old want comprehensive sex ed, 75-15 percent; those 25-34 want it, 70-21 percent.

Yep, it’s the old folks who are concerned about kids learning that darn sex ed in schools.

Jones found those over 65 years old – half want comprehensive sex education offered, a third said to stick with abstinence-only in the schools.

Other categories Jones measures:

  • 49 percent of “very active” Mormons favor comprehensive sex ed in the public schools.
  • 38 percent of active Mormons said keep abstinence only.
  • 68 percent of “somewhat active” Mormons want HB249 while 23 percent favor staying with abstinence only.
  • 76 percent of Catholics – whose religion teaches no contraceptives – want comprehensive sex ed in public schools, 24 percent oppose it.
  • 82 percent of Protestants want HB249, 14 percent oppose.
  • And 91 percent of Utahns who say they have no religion favor HB249, only 1 percent against it.

The only group with a majority against HB249 are those who described themselves to Jones as “very conservative” in their political philosophy, 54 percent said abstinence only in public schools, 31 percent said to go with comprehensive sex education.

King said he was surprised to learn that some Wasatch Front school districts have only abstinence classes available while some rural areas have what is termed “abstinence-plus” – where parents can put their kids in classes that “teach vaguely about some kind of contraceptives.”

It’s important that low-income families – that would qualify for the Medicaid part of his bill have the option of teaching about family planning, contraceptives and especially sexually transmitted diseases.

“These are the families that may be most susceptible to these problems – because of lack of (overall) education” and poor role models and such, he added.

The hearing before the education committee has yet to be set.