The current state of sex education in Texas public schools is the equivalent of shoving our collective fingers in our ears and screaming âLa-la-la-la-laâ while our youth are forced to learn about sex left to their own devices. And learn, they will. The hormones and curiosity of teenagers will drive them to learn about sex one way or another. The goal of sex education should be to make sure that what our youth learn about sex is accurate, healthy and helpful for making good decisions. Instead, in Texas, the only thing we teach our youth about sex is to not do it, with maybe some scare tactics and shame thrown in about all the horrible things that can happen to you if you do have sex.
This might be forgivable if parents actually talked to their children about sex at home. But the truth is, they are not; at least not very well or too late to be effective. Many parents that talk to their children about sex do so only after they have already engaged in sexual relations. And not only are parents talking to their children about sex too late, they aren't doing a great job at it. Even after parents think they have talked to their children about sex, their kids report never having had such a conversation. Our parents are literally doing such a bad job at talking with their kids about sex that our youth don't even know they have had âthe conversationsâ when it is over! (Park 2009)
And the numbers prove this out.
Twenty-five years ago, before Texas implemented its abstinence based sex education curriculum, Texas had the 11th highest rate of teen pregnancies in the nation. After twenty years of pretending like our youth are not having sex because we told them not to, we now constantly rank in the top five states for highest rate of teen pregnancies. And not just a little bit. Texas consistently has a teen birth rate one-and-a-half times higher than the national average. (Kost 2013)
The good news, overall, is that the rate of teen pregnancies around the nation is decreasing, including in Texas, due almost entirely to increased use of contraception among the youth (Santelli 2007). This isn't saying as much as we might like, however, as the United States has one of the highest rates among developed countries, almost 6 times higher than Germany (Kollodge 2013). The rate of teen pregnancies in Texas is decreasing well below the national average rate, however (NCPTUP 2013). And that isn't all.
One in 14 Texas teens have engaged in intercourse before the age of 13, with one-in-three by 9th grade, increasing to over half by the end of high school, all well above the national average. Condoms and other forms of protection are used at a lower rate in Texas than the national average. The number of sexual partners of Texas teens and the frequency of sexual activity is well above the national average, as well. And Texas ranks first in the nation in repeat teen pregnancies (CDC 2012).
This is the very definition of failed policy. When looking at sexual activity statistics there is a clear distinction between states that employ an abstinence based sex education model, such as Texas, and those that have more comprehensive sex education. Texas and other states that employ abstinence based sex education have significantly higher teen pregnancy rates than states that use a comprehensive or abstinence-plus approach to sex education (Stanger-Hall 2011).
These dangerous activities do not just put our teens at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, but have lasting effects on our entire State. âTeen pregnancy is a major factor in high school dropout â only 40% of teen mothers graduate from high school. They are also less likely to graduate from college and more likely to become dependent on welfare than non-teen mothers. Teen fathers are more likely to drop out of school, be unemployed, and have lower incomes than non-teen fathers. They are less likely to marry the mother of their first child and often experience poor involvement with their children. Children of teen parents are at increased risk of school failure, living in poverty, neglect or abuse, being placed in foster care, and becoming a teen parent themselves.â (Kirby 2007)
There is a common perception in Texas that exclusively promoting the 'morality' of delaying sex until marriage will be effective in reducing teen sexual activity. It is also believed that even mentioning sex to teenagers is enough to get them so âhot and botheredâ that they won't be able to control themselves. This idea was demonstrated during the 83rd Texas Legislature by Texas Rep. Steve Toth (R-Woodlands). During a discussion on sex education Toth shared a story: âMy wife worked at a home for unwed moms, and one of the little kids that was born, his name is David. David came about as a result of his mom and dad, who were just 16 at the time, going to a Planned Parenthood deal where they taught them how to use contraceptives. They were not sexually active at that point. They got into the car, and they were so hot and bothered from this deal, he couldnât even get the condom on.â Besides the fact that the story is hearsay, originally sourced to some teenagers who needed to scapegoat the blame for their 'immoral' actions, this evidence is anecdotal â one story. Without wider supporting evidence, it is nothing more than an attempt at emotional manipulation.
Does teaching our youth the truth about sex and contraception increase their likelihood of sexual activity? The conclusion reached by studies looking at this question: No . Teaching teenagers about sex does not increase the likelihood of sexual activity. Quite the opposite. It is the most successful method of delaying sexual activity among teens available to us (Kirby 2007). A comprehensive approach to sex education, even one that emphasizes abstinence, but teaches medically accurate information about the human body, sexuality and safe sex is the only widespread effective way at reducing dangerous sexual behavior among teens. Not only does comprehensive sex education have better results, it gives our youth the ability to make well informed decisions for their lives, instead of being ruled by their hormones in ignorance.
The Texas Legislature has required that all sex education in Texas teach abstinence as the only acceptable approach to sexual activity until you are married (TLO 1995). That is if the school districts teaches sex education at all. In 2009 the Texas Board of Education voted to remove entirely the requirement for health education in Texas schools, including sex education. Actual sex education curriculum is left up to each individual school district where advisory boards, appointed by local school districts, have to approve any changes in sex education curriculum (TLO 1995).
Don't tell our brave Governor Perry, who has claimed that âabstinence works,â without being able to offer any proof, but abstinence based sex education is just as effective at reducing sexual activity in students as not teaching sex education at all (Stanger-Hall 2011). There is no peer reviewed research that supports the effectiveness of abstinence based sex education, with all the evidence pointing in the opposite direction. In fact, after the largest federal push for abstinence based sex education in 2006, teen pregnancy rates suffered their first increase in the United States in over 20 years (CDC 2008).
This is not a partisan issue with a simple, honest disagreement about how best to accomplish a common goal. This is an actual, literal failure in public policy that needs to be addressed with a sober analysis of relevant facts.