The Texas State Board of Education looks to revise the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). These standards guide and shape what students across Texas are taught regarding sex. Some groups such as the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) see this as opportunity to push for standards to suit their agenda. Applauded by Planned Parenthood and others, they have published a report in partnership with the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States that twists health education into a platform to advance a controversial agenda about what Texas sex education should teach.
In fact, TFN wrote this opinion piece to summarize what they see as problematic in the current Sex Ed in Texas including unsubstantiated attacks on Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) education to make their case. However, while teaching truth is a stated goal, TFN relies on misinformation and falsehoods to offer an oversimplified solution to the negative outcomes of teen sex in Texas.
First, let’s look at the funding provided to Texas for programs TFN president Kathy Miller says are the silver bullet for reducing teen pregnancy in Texas. TFN-endorsed contraceptive-based programs receive a little more than $15 million in federal funds while SRA programs receive some $9 million. With $4 million more in funding, the greater sex education footprint belongs to the bigger purse. And while promoting condoms and contraception use is the primary goal of these programs, the fact is most Texas teens are not responding to their well-funded condom-promotion message.
According to a Centers for Disease Control survey of youth behaviors, teen condom use is at the lowest point in a decade nationwide with 60% of teens using condoms in 2007 to a low of 53% in 2017 (the most recent data). And this after eight years and an investment of nearly $850 million on contraceptive programs for teens while eliminating programs that share medically accurate, age-appropriate information in the context of avoiding sexual risk and promoting sexual delay (abstinence) as the best option for teens.
Why should Texas taxpayers foot the bill for so-called “comprehensive” programs which according to HHS’ own 2016 report of findings showed 80% had no effect or negative effects including more oral sex, more pregnancy and increased sexual debut? It’s time for a change.
Sexual Risk Avoidance programming is a primary prevention strategy focused on optimal health outcomes for all youth. It broadens the conversation from teen pregnancy to look at life impact of teen sex because sex is about more than sex. In fact, Sexual Risk Avoidance educators struggle to meet demand for their programs. Waiting lists are common as more and more schools and parents desire choice in sex education approaches without the controversial agendas of special interests and ideologies that politicize the sexual health of youth and ignore the community standards.
The truth: Medically accurate, age-appropriate information on puberty, reproductive anatomy, pregnancy, contraception, STDs, healthy relationships, consent, awareness of dating violence and sexual assault along with the knowledge and skills that normalize sexual delay are relevant to all youth and can be taught in a context that promotes optimal health and respect for sex as a healthy part of human development and gives all youth what they need to succeed in health and wellbeing as they grow toward adulthood.