2015 marks 20 years since Texas has required an abstinence-until-marriage approach to sex education in our public schools, teaching our teens to just say no to sex. For these 20 years Texas has consistently ranked in the top 10 states for teen sexual activity (CDC, 1993 - 2014), the top 5 states for highest teen pregnancy rate (Kost, 2013), the highest rate in the nation for repeat teen pregnancies (CDC 2013), and among the bottom 5 states for condom use by sexually active teens (CDC, 1993 - 2014). In short, despite all the efforts of abstinence-until-marriage sex education, Texas has some of the most dangerous sexual behavior among teens in the entire nation.
While teen pregnancy rates have dropped over the last 25 years (Kost, 2013), the rate of decrease that has been seen in Texas is among the worst in the nation, with 39 states having greater rates of improvement than Texas (NCPTUP, 2013). In fact, when states are compared by the level of dedication to abstinence in their laws and policies, states with strong abstinence-until-marriage laws have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and the lowest levels of improvements in teen pregnancy rates over the past 25 years (Stanger-Hall 2011).
In a study on the causes of this declining rate of teen pregnancies in the United States, the findings show that â14% of the change observed among 15- to 19-year-olds was attributable to a decrease in the percentage of sexually active young women and that 86% was attributable to changes in contraceptive method useâ (Santelli, 2007). In fact, when teen sexual activity rates (CDC, 1993 - 2014) are compared with teen pregnancy rates (Kost, 2013), pregnancy rates go down while teen sexual activity rates remain unchanged, showing that our abstinence-until-marriage sex education cannot be responsible for any reductions in the teen pregnancy rate in Texas.
Peer-reviewed studies over the past decade have found that abstinence-plus sex education programs show significant decreases in sexual activity and pregnancy rates among teens (Kirby, 2007). Not one peer-reviewed study of abstinence-until-marriage sex education, such as those prescribed by Texas law, has shown a reduction in teen pregnancy rates or teen sexual activity rates (Kirby, 2007). Many abstinence-until-marriage advocates list studies that show the positive effects of abstinence sex education, but all studies with positive results are actually studies of abstinence-plus sex education, that is, programs that emphasize abstinence but also provide medically accurate information on human sexuality and contraception â which is exactly what the sex education reform bills proposed this session would allow.
Texas actually conducted a study of our own abstinence-until-marriage programs in 2004, performed by Texas A&M University. This study found âthe number of adolescents who had had sexual intercourse did not change or increased after they had received abstinence only sex education.â Looking at the numbers, the increase is dramatic. After going through the abstinence-until-marriage course, there was a 20% increase among girls and 62% increase among boys having engaged in sexual activity (Hopkins, 2005). This is the opposite of what the programs claim to be accomplishing.
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT SEX EDUCATION REFORM
Texas parents prefer abstinence-until-marriage sex education.
In a 2011 survey of Texas parents, 66% stated they prefer an abstinence-plus approach to sex education taught in public schools over an abstinence-until-marriage approach â that is, a program that emphasizes abstinence but also provides medically accurate information on human sexuality and contraception. That 66% includes widespread support among Texans of all political affiliations, including 65% of Republicans, 70% of Democrats and 61% of Independents. 64% of parents want this education to start in middle school. (Tortolero, 2011)
Teaching about contraception or talking frankly about sex only encourages our teens to be sexually reckless.
This is a common and reasonable concern. Thankfully, however, it is one that does not prove out in reality. In probably the most extensive study of sex education conducted to date, it was found that âno comprehensive program [that discusses the use of contraception] hastened the initiation of sex or increased the frequency of sex, results that many people fear. Emphasizing both abstinence and protection for those who do have sex is a realistic, effective approach that does not appear to confuse young people.â (Kirby, 2007)
In fact, quite the opposite. While abstinence-until-marriage programs were found to have no positive effect on teen sexual behavior, âTwo-thirds of the 48 comprehensive programs that supported both abstinence and the use of condoms and contraceptives for sexually active teens had positive behavioral effects. Specifically, over 40 percent of the programs delayed the initiation of sex, reduced the number of sexual partners, and increased condom or contraceptive use; almost 30 percent reduced the frequency of sex (including a return to abstinence); and more than 60 percent reduced unprotected sex. Furthermore, nearly 40 percent of the programs had positive effects on more than one of these behaviors. For example, some programs both delayed the initiation of sex and increased condom or other contraceptive use.â (Kirby, 2007)
In the end, if parents are concerned about teens making reckless and dangerous decisions about sex, abstinence-plus programs have been shown again and again to be effective at reducing sexual activity, and dangerous sexual activity, which no abstinence-until-marriage program has been shown to do.
A CALL FOR SEX EDUCATION REFORM
Young Texans deserve better sex education than the current abstinence-until-marriage approach. If we truly care about our teens and their futures, we need to make the decisions necessary to educate them to make responsible and well informed decisions as they work through high school and mature into adults.