It’s unlikely that any adult really enjoys having The Talk with a teenager. But avoiding the birds and the bees leads to trouble, as Texas is finding out.
The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund has released a new report on the state of sex education in Texas public schools. “Conspiracy of Silence: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools in 2015-16” reviews data on the correlation between abstinence-centric sex ed programs and rates of teen pregnancy.
While it’s worth noting that the TFN is definitely a left-leaning organization (which may—or may not—have skewed the data and the conclusions drawn from it), the numbers are still concerning.
Despite widespread support for sex ed in general, over 83% of Texas districts taught abstinence-only programs or no sex ed at all during the 2015-16 school year. Meanwhile, Texas continues to have one of the nation’s highest teen pregnancy rates.
A big part of the trouble is that, as of 2009, health education is no longer required for high school graduation. According to the TFN report, “Districts offering no high school health class were more than four times more likely than other districts to offer no sex education to students.”
This is despite the fact that, even as far back as 2004, a Scripps Howard poll found that 90% of Texas adults favored sex ed in schools, including information about contraception.
But when it comes to a potential battle over curriculum, most just don’t want the trouble.
It’s not the focus on abstinence so much that’s the problem. Unfortunately, these programs often include erroneous information. Kellie Gretschel, a parent in Northeast ISD and a member of the San Antonio Coalition for Life, says the “Draw the Line/Respect the Line” program, for instance, “helps boys to delay sexual activity” but “does nothing for young ladies.” This kind of program also tends to promote incorrect information, such as the idea that condoms and other contraception methods are ineffective and constitute high-risk behavior.
With Texas teen birth rates at the fifth-highest in the country (34.6 births per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19), report lead author and health educator David Wiley believes it’s time to make more accurate information available to students in the classroom. “I’m not really sure why we’re so worried about a trained classroom teacher, who is a trusted adult to these students, standing in front of the room talking about condoms and other forms of birth control,” Wiiley said in an interview. “Yet these students carry around a computer in their pocket all day and, with two clicks of a mouse, they can watch the most explicit sexual content imaginable.”
All of this leaves aside the fact that most Texas school districts provide little to no information for LGBT students, opting instead for fear-based education that is also staunchly anti-abortion.
It remains to be seen what effect, if any, this report will have on how Texas teaches sex education in schools. At the very least, perhaps the new data will lead to more open conversation about curricula and the best ways to prevent a further rise in teen pregnancy and STDs.