Dishonesty about Sex Education

by Dan Quinn

Community Impact News has asked Republican incumbent Ken Mercer, Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Libertarian Mark Loewe about issues important in their District 5 State Board of Education race. District 5 covers and expansive area, including parts of San Antonio, Austin and the Hill Country and even extending all the way up to Bell County. Check out the interviews here (for Mercer), here (for Bell-Metereau) and here (for Loewe). But we wanted to highlight an especially misleading response from Mercer regarding a question about sex education:

When I talk to parents in my district, they want their kids to understand the consequences of the choices. If they choose to abstain, if they choose to become sexually active, parents want kids to know the consequences. It’s called personal responsibility. What they do not want is a comprehensive, how-to class.

The complaint I’ve heard from parents is that there is an agenda to promote a how-to class, and it’s not about how to have sex; it’s about what are the consequences of your decisions. Parents and groups I talked to consider ‘comprehensive’ a code word to teach about sex in other lifestyles. They want kids to understand the consequences of their decisions: That’s what sex ed and health books are all about.

‘Comprehensive’ has been a code word for how to have sex with the opposite or same sex people, that its more of an indoctrination to other lifestyles. That’s not what parents want.

Sigh. So much misinformation and distortion in one short answer.

The issue isn’t about teaching students “how to” have sex. The state’s sky-high teen birth rate demonstrates that Texas teens have that part figured out already. The issue is whether we should keep teens ignorant about information they need to protect themselves and make important life decisions. An in-depth report by two Texas State University health education professors last year, funded by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, shows that the vast majority of Texas students are not getting that information. In fact, the study found that more than 9 in 10 school districts teach “abstinence-only-until-marriage” or nothing at all when it comes to sex education.

Moreover, we don’t know which parents Mercer has been talking to, but polling regularly shows that a large majority of parents support comprehensive sex education. That means — and this language is clear in polling questions — they support teaching students about abstinence as well as medically accurate information on condoms and other forms of contraception. See here and here, for example. Simply put, this issue isn’t nearly as controversial as Mercer makes it out to be: most parents reject fear and ignorance as effective ways to protect their kids.

But note the way Mercer defines “comprehensive”:

“‘Comprehensive’ has been a code word for how to have sex with the opposite or same sex people, that its more of an indoctrination to other lifestyles.”

Translation: “If we can persuade parents that sex education is really about promoting homosexuality, we win!”

In fact, during the legislative session last year, far-right pressure groups criticized bills reforming sex education in Texas by falsely claiming comprehensive, responsible sex education would “promote recreational and gay sex.” Those reform bills — which would have encouraged more comprehensive sex education and required that any information presented in such classes be medically accurate — failed to pass.

We will support, once again, efforts to pass such legislation in 2011. That’s because when opponents of responsible sex education win, young people lose. Ignorance won’t protect our kids. Most parents know that, regardless of what people like Ken Mercer say.