Texas Needs To Talk About Sex

Texas Needs To Talk About Sex

Alexis ChapmanThursday,18 February 2016

Texas is one of a number of states where schools are not required to provide sex education. In Texas schools where it is provided it’s not really sex ed, it’s so-called “Abstinence Education,” which is more or less the opposite of sex ed, and has been proven less effective at preventing teen pregnancies and STDs. Abstinence Education focuses on the idea that abstinence is the only way to be 100% sure of not getting pregnant or getting an STD. It reinforces that message by telling kids things like “Today, virgin means not having participated in any sexual activity of any kind.” and then confusingly elaborates, “People want to marry a virgin, just like they want a virgin toothbrush or stick of gum.”

It’s technically true that abstinence is 100% effective at preventing disease and pregnancy, but only if you practice abstinence 100% of the time. Apparently teenagers in Texas don’t. In 2014 (the most recent year I could find stats for) Texas had a teen pregnancy rate of 37.8 births per 1,000 girls compared to a national average of 24. Teen pregnancies are estimated to cost the state over a billion dollars a year in health care, lost revenue, and foster care. And even when teens don’t end up pregnant, the Abstinence Education message that once someone has had sex they are in some way lessened is a very disturbing thing to be teaching to kids.

In spite of the clear failures of the current system, the State Government has not shown a lot of interest in making changes. In 2015, there were at least three Texas bills on sex ed which would have done things like require education to be medically accurate, require curriculum to provide information on contraceptives, or require health education be evidence-based. None of them passed.

Wanting people to be well informed so that they can make healthy, safe decisions should be reason enough to create sex ed programs that work. But lately in Texas there’s been even more motivation to improve sex ed. In 2013 Texas passed HB2, which put a number of restrictions on abortion clinics and caused over half the state’s clinics to close (including many which provided other services like contraceptives and family planning). The law has been challenged and the case is currently before the Supreme Court. Whenever the abortion debate resurges in a public forum like this it’s an opportunity for both sides to advocate for reducing unplanned pregnancies. This is clear common ground in an otherwise extremely complicated debate, and reducing unwanted pregnancies should be a top priority no matter how a person feels about abortion. Functional sex education is a good place to start working to prevent unplanned pregnancies. But, Texas being Texas, it has decided to continue investing in a program that doesn’t work. In 2015, the state took $3 million away from HIV and STD prevention and put it towards Abstinence Education. It’s truly mind boggling that in a world where STDs exist and where we have good data about what types of education works, lawmakers are still sabotaging their own state’s sex ed programs.

Texas’ failure to provide decent sex ed is dangerous, it’s unfair to Texas students, and it has already cost the state a lot. And things may be about to get worse. It turns out Zika virus can be sexually transmitted, is likely to cause two neurological disorders, and may be spreading even more in Texas soon. So far, common sense, all the other STDs, and high rates of teenage pregnancy haven’t convinced Texas to mandate that schools provide real sex ed. With the added looming threat of Zika, maybe lawmakers in Texas will finally accept that Abstinence Education is not only failing at promoting abstinence, but is also failing at being real education.

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Image Credit: Brandi Korte on Flickr

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