Report: 83 Percent of Texas School Districts Offer Abstinence-Only or No Sex Ed

“We’re creating generation after generation after generation of sexually illiterate adults.”

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A quarter of Texas school districts have no sex education at all.  WhatKnot/Flickr/Creative Commons

Condom use requires a complicated, six-step process, sexual intimacy often leads to suicide and HIV can be transmitted through mutual masturbation.

These are among the fallacies being taught as part of sex education in Texas public schools — when sex education is taught at all, according to a new report from the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a progressive statewide group.

The report, titled “Conspiracy of Silence,” found that despite some improvement over the last eight years, more than 83 percent of Texas districts currently provide either abstinence-only sex education — free of accurate information about contraception — or no sex education whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Texas has one of the nation’s highest teen birth rates, above-average rates of sexual risk-taking among youth, rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in some areas and the highest infant mortality rate in the developed world.

“When it comes to sex education, Texas is failing our students and their families,” TFN President Kathy Miller said during a Tuesday news conference at the Capitol, where the group passed out candy and condoms on Valentine’s Day.  

Miller said Texas has become “a poster child” for the failed policy of abstinence-only education, calling state lawmakers’ unwillingness to address the issue “ridiculous” and “wrong.”

“We hope that this session, with new information documenting what’s actually happening in our schools, we’re providing evidence that the Legislature should no longer bury its head in the sand,” she said, blaming “extremists on the far right” for amplifying people’s natural discomfort with the topic.  

Texas State professor David Wiley discusses his sex education study at the Capitol on Tuesday as state Representative Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, looks on.  John Wright

State Representative Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, is the author of House Bill 1547, which would require sex education classes in Texas to include medically accurate information about contraception. Although similar bills have failed to gain traction in the past, Gonzalez hopes to win support for the measure among conservative Republicans by stressing that it would reduce the number of abortions in the state.

“We say we don’t want abortion, but we’re also not providing sex education that would actually limit teen pregnancy,” Gonzalez said during Tuesday’s news conference. “We can use that as the beginning of a conversation.”

Despite the Legislature’s failure to act, TFN’s report found that an increasing number of Texas school districts are providing “abstinence-plus” sex education, which includes medically accurate information about contraception. In the 2015-16 school year, 16.65 percent of districts used abstinence-plus materials, up from just 3.6 percent 2009, when TFN conducted its last major study.

However, the number of districts that fail to provide any sex education also increased dramatically, from 2.3 percent in 2009 to 25.1 percent last year. According to TFN, this increase was largely due to the Legislature’s decision in 2009 to drop health classes — where sex education has traditionally been taught — as a high school graduation requirement.

David Wiley, a health education professor at Texas State University and author of the TFN report, said many districts also misinterpret a 1995 Texas law saying sex education must stress abstinence, overlooking the fact that it allows them to include information about birth control and the spread of STDs.

Wiley pointed to a “cottage industry” of groups that contract with districts to provide abstinence-only education in Texas. Many of them are so-called crisis pregnancy centers with anti-abortion agendas, according to TFN’s report.

When sex education does include condoms and other forms of contraception, they’re often erroneously characterized as ineffective and high-risk, the report states. Some districts employ shame and fear-based tactics, describing students who are sexually active as impure and uncaring about their futures.

The report also found that sex education in Texas frequently reinforces gender stereotypes and provides dangerous misinformation about sexual assault that can lead to victim-blaming. And districts almost never include information about abortion or LGBT issues.

“We’re creating generation after generation after generation of sexually illiterate adults,” Wiley said.

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Published at 3:38 pm CST
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