Kissing Abstinence-Only Goodbye

by Ryan

It looks like Texas schools are growing tired of waiting around for state law-makers to reverse the state’s addiction to failed abstinence-only programs. They are taking matters into their own hands.

Earlier this week San Marcos CISD became the latest in a rapidly expanding list of Texas districts — including schools in the Dallas-area , Austin-area, and San Antonio-area, to name but a few — to adopt a common-sense approach to sex education in their schools. On Monday the San Marcos school board voted to abandon abstinence-only sex education in favor of an abstinence-plus approach (which recommends abstinence first, but also provides basic information about contraception).

On one level this is unsurprising, since a May poll sponsored by TFNEF shows that 80 percent of likely voters in Texas agree that high school classes on sex education should teach “about contraception, such as condoms and other birth control, along with abstinence.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, teaching accurate and comprehensive sex education is NOT controversial in Texas.

But getting nervous school boards to overcome their reluctance and actually take action can be a daunting task. That’s why TFN launched an initiative last fall to support activists in local communities like San Marcos who wish to change their schools’ sex education policy. Almost a year into this program, we are starting to see some real results.

In school districts around the state, a familiar script is playing out again and again:

>>Parents and community members grow alarmed about high teen pregnancy and disease rates and join their local School Health Advisory Council (SHAC).

>>Led by these activists, the SHAC puts forth a recommendation for the district to adopt a new approach to sex education — one that includes information about contraception and birth control, along with a strong message of abstinence.

>>Local scholars and health educators encourage the school board to utilize an evidence-based curriculum that actually works in reducing teen pregnancy and STD rates.

>>Responding to this broad support, the school board steps up and installs real, accurate, honest sex education programs in their schools.

It isn’t always this smooth, of course. In some instances a small group of loud voices object, hoping to intimidate the school board with myths or scare-tactics about contraceptives or by trumpeting the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs. But the evidence just isn’t on their side — and neither are most of their neighbors. Lacking any other defense, some abstinence-only supporters resort to tired and divisive religious arguments against honest sex education. That’s what happened in San Marcos, where one school board member said:

I assume the majority of students at San Marcos High School are Christian. And if that is the case, then this whole thing is anti-Christian.

But policy makers at local schools are beginning to recognize this as a bogus argument. Plenty of Christians and other people of faith support sex education that includes information about contraceptives and birth control — even in a conservative state like Texas. And most people recognize the complimentary roles parents and schools can play in this area: schools are best equipped to cover the biological and scientific aspects of sex education, while moral and ethical guidance comes from parents and religious congregations. The two don’t have to be in conflict.

Texas has the third highest teenage birth rate in the U.S., which means a teenager in Texas gets pregnant every 10 minutes and a Texas teenager gives birth every 10 minutes.

The educators and parents on front lines of this public health crisis are rejecting the status quo and demanding a more responsible approach.

Are state law-makers listening?