Sex therapy and sex education in Utah schools and society

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UTAH (ABC4) – When it comes to therapy, it’s common to open up about intimate details of our lives.  

But one form of therapy is confronting arguably the most intimate aspect of someone’s life — sex.  

Therapists say if you’re scared off by the term “sex therapy,” don’t be. Sex therapy isn’t anything racy or explicit, it’s regular old therapy, but the topic revolves around your sex life.

And for many people in Utah, it’s an outlet to create more meaningful intimacy in their lives.  

Sex therapy — you might be wondering that entails. First, let’s tell you what sex therapy isn’t. 

If you’re planning to see a sex therapist, you won’t be taking off your clothes or having sex during the session. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. 

“Sex therapy is really unsexy,” says sex therapist Jordan Rullo.

Sex is an integral part of many people’s lives. But for some, it remains a difficult topic to talk about or even a difficult act to partake in. So where does a sex therapist come in? 

“My role is to talk with a client to identify thoughts that they have that are irrational or inaccurate,” says Rullo. “There’s a lot of inaccurate thoughts related to sexual health, a lot of just lack of sex education.”

Sex therapists work with clients to remove harmful mindsets that can lower sex drive or make sex either unenjoyable, unattainable through dysfunction or even painful. 

But how does that even happen? Rullo points to two things — shame and lack of education.  

“Same issues in other states, however in Utah, it’s a much more concentrated sexual shame,” says Rullo. 

She says in Utah, these two problems remain a large issue. 

“There’s a huge lack of sex education,” notes Rullo. “Again, that’s true in other states, but working here, it seems to be a lot higher.”

And Rullo says those two problems feed into each other.

“If you think about one of the main things that fuels shame, it’s ‘Don’t talk about it, don’t talk about it.’ So if you are not getting good accurate sexual health education, if you are just being told ‘Don’t talk about it,’ or if you’re being told ‘Here are all the bad things that are going to happen if you do it,’ that just fuels that shame,” says Rullo.

But where should people learn about sex? Utah’s public school sex education is abstinence-based and the curriculum is not comprehensive. Parents must opt-in to allow their kids to be taught sex ed. 

Advocates for Utah’s current abstinence-based education system believe this method is working. 

“We know it works because of the numbers that we see coming back with the children, you know the number of teenage pregnancies, or STDs, or abortion, all those numbers you can look at those and Utah is always down at the bottom,” says Gayle Ruzicka, President of the Eagle Forum. 

They believe sex education should be taught at home. 

“It’s all about protecting the children and of course about the parents and the parental rights and the parents to be the ones that teach those children those things,” says Ruzicka.

Brigham Young University professor Chelom Leavitt teaches a course called Healthy Sexuality in Marriage.  She agrees sex should be taught in the home, but says problems can arise. 

“Really, the best place for children to learn about healthy sexuality is from their parents for sure,” says Leavitt. “Is that happening? Not really. In fact, just because I do the research on this, I know that it’s not happening in about 80% of families.”

She says in Utah homes that do discuss sex, the conversation can sometimes revolve only around the mechanics or the risks involved. She says that can lead to misinformation.

“When children feel like they’re not getting their questions answered about sexuality, the two sources they go to are the internet and their peers; those are two terrible sources,” says Leavitt.

She and others like Rullo believe there should be for more expansive conversations about sex. Not just about the dangers, but a holistic approach that discusses both the good and the bad, as well as incorporating one’s beliefs about sex. 

And when it comes to sex therapy, that’s the goal. 

“My role is not to change those beliefs, but my role is to give all the accurate information,” says Rullo. “So here’s what we know from research, here’s what we know from science, but also here’s what we know about your values. These are values that are incredibly important to you so let’s talk about how we take your values and take this accurate information and reconcile the two.”

This idea of applying values and accurate information to create a healthy mindset can happen at any point in one’s life and can be successfully taught inside the home.

Whether adults are looking to reframe their mindset about sex or parents are looking for a way to teach their children about sex in an age-appropriate manner, experts say it’s important to always talk about it and have an open conversation.

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