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FOX 13 Investigates: LDS leader Brad Wilcox has been teaching Utah boys about puberty for decades

Posted at 10:08 PM, May 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-05 07:39:53-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The video starts with: “I’m Brad Wilcox and I’m going to be presenting a maturation clinic at this school here in just a few minutes.”

“Maturation clinic” is a way of saying Wilcox will be teaching a room full of fifth- or sixth-grade boys – and attending parents – about puberty. A video of the presentation was posted in 2017 to the Youtube page for Religious Education at Brigham Young University, where Wilcox is a professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture.

“Boys, in the next few minutes, you're going to hear some really grown-up words,” Wilcox tells the audience.

Over the next 50 minutes, he explains how they can expect to grow taller, grow more body hair, see changes in their genitalia and need to shower daily, among other things.

Wilcox says he has been giving such lectures for about 35 years, including in public schools, even though he has no background in health. That and his prominence in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has put some parents and taxpayers at unease.

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“I just don't think he has the specialized education and qualifications,” said Paige Beach, a graduate of the Granite School District, whose schools Wilcox has spoken in. Beach was among those expressing her concern on a recent Reddit thread about Wilcox’s lectures.

“I think they should be taught by a qualified health professional,” she added.

“He's banking on that kind of moral authority that he has in the community. And I would prefer to judge someone by their actual education and experience.”

Some parents, and a health professional, say Wilcox does a good job.

“I have a lot of concerns in the state of Utah about separation of church and state,” said Ian Bowles, who has attended Wilcox lectures with his two oldest sons. “I think that's a problem we need to address. I don't think Brad Wilcox being in our schools talking about basic biology is a problem.”

“The lecture was definitely secular,” Bowles added.

“He just had a good vibe. He knew the beats. He knew when kids were gonna laugh.”

Anyone who in Utah who hasn’t sat through one of Wilcox’s maturation lectures, or didn’t know him from one of his many church talks over the years, probably remembers him from church fireside talk he gave in February.

“Maybe instead of asking why the Blacks had to wait until 1978 to get the priesthood, we should be asking, ‘Why did the whites and other races have to wait until 1829?” Wilcox said.

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The remarks drew criticism from Black members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Wilcox apologized.

Wilcox declined a FOX 13 News interview request.

He has written that he gave his first maturation lecture in 1986 when he taught sixth graders at Edgemont Elementary in Provo. In a 2018 interview for the podcast “Thriving With 8,” Wilcox said he was unimpressed with the presenter who gave the puberty talk at the school; when Wilcox complained to the principal, he was given the task.

Wilcox went on to earn a doctorate in instruction of reading and language arts. He has been open about not being a health professional.

Over the decades, he has become a prolific author, writing about the role of Jesus and grace for Latter-day Saints. He’s also written about puberty and sex from a Latter-day Saint perspective – encouraging abstinence until marriage.

In his 2000 book “Growing Up: Gospel Answers About Maturation and Sex,” Wilcox wrote that “homosexuality goes against God’s teaching and plan.”

Wilcox referenced the book near the end of his maturation lecture found on Youtube.

“I did a book once called ‘Growing Up.’ It's available at Deseret Book,” he said.

The lecture itself, however, does not discuss sex, abstinence or homosexuality. The only mention of religion was a warning.

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“And I don't care if you're a Mormon, and he doesn't go to church,” he told the boys. “I don't care if you're a Mormon, and he goes to a different church. We don't tease about beliefs.”

In 2021, Wilcox was appointed second counselor in the Young Men’s General Presidency – a position giving him influence over activities for boys and a prestigious post in the 16-million member faith.

FOX 13 News found public records showing in recent years Wilcox has given the talk at schools in the Alpine, Canyons and Granite school districts, as well as at least two public charter schools. Utah requires parents give written consent for their children to attend maturation lessons and state law prohibits public schools from discussing the intricacies of intercourse. So, Wilcox’s talk never goes there.

State regulations also say school districts are required to develop a list of puberty and sex ed materials and presenters, but FOX 13 found evidence some schools are relying on word-of-mouth.

FOX 13 News asked schools and school districts for any bids or requests for proposals for the maturation lectures. None had any. Wilcox is typically paid $200 per lecture, public records show.

The executive director of Summit Academy in Draper, where Wilcox gave the maturation lecture earlier this year, said in an email to FOX 13 that administrators found Wilcox by asking their colleagues at other schools for suggestions.

Wilcox, on the “Thriving with 8” podcast, gave this description.

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“Even though I’m not in the public schools anymore,” Wilcox said, “I have enough principal friends out there that always call me and say, ‘Get over here, I need you to do the maturation clinic.’”

A maturation lecture for girls is taught separately. A review of those presentations show they are typically led by nurses or someone else with a health background.

So how good is Wilcox’s talk for boys?

“I thought it was a good synopsis of changes that boys will go through during puberty,” said Dawn Ansdell, a nurse practitioner in British Columbia, where she teaches puberty in schools.

Ansdell watched the Wilcox lecture found online.

“I thought it was good that he spoke, openly talked about diversity, talking about respect, in different body shapes and sizes, made some room to speak about a sexual assault,” she said.

Wilcox, in the video, describes inappropriate touching from another person.

“And if that ever happens,” he tells the boys, “you know what to do? ‘No way, quit it, stop it!’ And then you go, and you tell.”

Both Ansdell and Beach were concerned, however, with the reasons he gives for not perpetrating sexual assault or harassment. He showed the boys a list of news articles about people being sued for such conduct.

Ansdell and Beach said they would have preferred Wilcox discuss consent and respect rather than legal consequences.

“Overall, he's providing information to kids that need to know about their body and as their body changes,” Ansdell said.

In the video, Wilcox closed by saying, “If you have any questions or concerns or comments, feel free to come up and talk to me. But thanks so much for being here.”

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