Texas is known for its Barbeque. It is known for the Alamo, country line dancing, and the children’s sheep riding contest called Mutton Bustin’. But Texas is not known for stellar sex education. I learned this first hand as I fought my way up and out of the Texas public school system. I remember the only times I received any information related to the subject of sexual activity. The first time, I was in sixth grade gym class and the coach stood awkwardly in front of us. Looking uncomfortable, he read a small paragraph off of his clipboard.
“You’re going to grow more in the next few years. You also might feel attracted to people of the opposite sex. This is normal but never act on it. Just wait,” he said. “Now go dress out and we’ll play a game of volleyball.”
The next time was later that same year. A girl who was a senior over at the high school was murdered by her boyfriend. She was believed to be pregnant. Instructors at my school used the tragedy to their advantage, warping it into a disgusting fear tactic.
“Remember what happened to Tiffany every time you even think about undoing those jeans,” they would say.
That was it. No information on safe sex. No big talk about sexually transmitted infections and diseases. Just a half-baked curriculum that was based primarily on abstinence and was designed by a very conservative group of educators.
This teaching method was not limited to my school district. A study revealed that 74.6% of Texas public schools teach sex education using the "Abstinence Only" approach. The topic of contraceptives is handled strategically. Teachers skip over the subject altogether or only mention the fact that they have the potential to fail. This logic spread past health teachers and was even used by politicians.
In 2010, former Texas governor Rick Perry was asked how much funding should go towards sex education programs. His response advocated for spending on abstinence education. He believed that contraceptives should not ever be used because of the possibility of failure. Abstaining completely from sexual activity, however, was fail-safe.
“Out of the amount of money we are spending, are we getting a return on that that is appropriate? Yes. I think that those are some dollars that are well spent,” Perry said.
Many people would disagree. Especially the students of a West Texas high school whose "Abstinence Only" program did not work by any stretch of the imagination. In an ironic turn of events, a chlamydia outbreak struck down every 1 in 15 teenagers there in 2015. The school’s staff acknowledged that there probably were some holes in their sex education curriculum, but defended themselves by saying the primary responsibility of sexual education belongs to the parents.
I know for a fact that that would not go over well in the conservative Texas towns with strong religious communities. Although nobody at school had any clue what gonorrhea was, we knew that having it would be better than having an awkward conversation with our parents about how we could get it. Very few people were comfortable enough to discuss the topic of sex with their parents. They expected their parents to give the same abstinence until marriage speech that was typically delivered. Most of the time that is exactly what happened. Sometimes you would get a free purity ring out of the deal, but alas, no birth control. No one had information or access to contraceptives so a large number girls became pregnant. Experts started referring to my hometown as a teenage pregnancy hotspot.
There is another consequence that accompanies a lack of sex education that is far more dangerous than pregnancy. Texas has been experiencing an upswing in cases of HIV in teens and young adults. Experts believe that this can be traced back to a sense of complacency that comes with a lack of knowledge of the threat this virus can pose. Details about HIV, how it is contracted and the ways in which it can be prevented are not shared with adolescents. This was demonstrated in a study conducted by Texas Tech. It was revealed that 67% of the participating students did not even know how to correctly apply a condom. A major line of defense against sexually transmitted diseases was rendered useless because high schoolers were not given instruction on how to use condoms and other forms of protection.
What needs to be realized is that sex education is not the same thing as adults encouraging their students and children to go have sex. Statistics show that they will go and do it anyways. Sex education will teach teenagers how to make adult decisions about what they do with their bodies. Education has the ability to promote health and safety. It allows students to ask the questions they would not feel comfortable asking their family members. Texas public schools need to implement mandatory sexual education programs. They need to stop giving students disciplinary referrals for asking questions about how to use a condom. They need to stop using victims of violence as proof that sex is bad.
This should not be seen as a political issue. This should not be seen as a religious issue. This should be seen as a health issue.