Say ‘no’ to abstinence-only

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On Tuesday, the Texas Freedom Network helped organize a lobby day to support legislation by Rep. Joaquin Castro, D- San Antonio, which would change sexual education in Texas schools from abstinence-only to a more comprehensive approach. We support the legislation and TFN’s efforts because abstinence-only sexual education is not based on science, evidence or education policy. It does not work, and Texas students deserve better.

Abstinence-only education is currently the only form of sexual education legally taught in Texas public schools. The concept is neither nuanced nor thorough; teachers simply instruct students not to have sex. If you don’t have sex, you won’t get pregnant, contract sexually transmitted diseases or go through any of the emotional issues associated with sexual activity. Duh.

The “don’t have sex” approach has taken Texas youths by storm, as more than half of Texas students have had sexual intercourse. Furthermore, Texas has the third highest teen birth rate in the nation and, most alarmingly, 43 percent of Texas students did not use a condom the last time they had sex, according to information compiled by the Texas Legislative Study Group.

What did our esteemed and uber-abstinence-only supporter Gov. Rick Perry say when Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune confronted him with empirical evidence indicating his beloved method is ineffective? “Abstinence works...from my own personal life, abstinence works.” There you go. On one hand, you have facts and figures and science and reality, and on the other hand, you have Perry and his utterly unsubstantiated claims.

Unfortunately the latter has been driving Texas education policy for the past decade, leading to abysmal sexual health conditions in the state. There is hope, however, with TFN’s lobbying efforts and Castro’s legislation. Under the bill, HB 1624, schools will still teach abstinence-only as the most effective method but will also present information about other forms of contraception, such as condoms and the birth control pill.

Castro’s legislation is a much-needed, long-overdue change. Texas students need and deserve all the facts about sexual activity in order to decide for themselves whether or not to engage in it.

What is more, the legislation could also provide an impetus for a re-evaluation of if and how sexual education is taught in the state. According to the Legislative Study Group, only 4 percent of schools in Texas even teach about teen pregnancy and STD prevention. Forty-one percent of sexual education materials used in Texas schools contain factual errors and 3.7 million Texas students are not taught basic information about unplanned pregnancies and STDs. So not only are Texas educators forced to teach a flawed method of sexual education, but they are somehow managing to teach it incorrectly. Hopefully Castro’s bill will inspire other legislators and education policy makers to reconsider the importance and state of sexual education in Texas.

HB 1624 could not come at a more pressing time. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a law banning federal funding for Planned Parenthood. While the organization is most widely known for providing abortions, it actually spends much of its efforts and resources educating young people about reproductive health and distributing various forms of birth control. If the organization loses federal funding and is significantly weakened, then the state must step in and fulfill that responsibility. Similarly, with the Texas Legislature bent on restricting women’s legal right to abortion, the state must at least effectively educate its youth on the subject.

Lawmakers should listen to TFN’s student lobbyists because HB 1624 is necessary, sensible and hopefully moderate enough to succeed. In a legislative session wrought with problems and slim on solutions, the least our lawmakers can do is approve a bill which actually presents a remedy to one of our state’s most pressing issues.