Apr 03, 2020

Texas Schools Failing to Teach Sex Ed

Reporting Texas TV

Texas students often arrive on college campuses ill equipped to navigate the sexual freedom that comes with their newfound independence. Critics place the blame on inconsistent, confusing and contradictory approaches to sex education in the state’s public schools.

Karen Rayne, assistant professor of instruction at the University of Texas at Austin, said she believes because people have bodies that can reproduce, they should have pretty substantial awareness of how they work and the ways in which their body functions.

“[College students come to me] on average, missing basic anatomical, biological information. I think a lot of people have a better idea of how plants grow than they do of how humans grow,” Rayne said.

LISTEN: Students, experts talk with reporter Shelby Woods about sex education

Human sexuality curriculum in public schools has long been debated. Questions include, what is taking it too far? What isn’t far enough? What is the parent’s responsibility? What is the school’s?

The state of Texas does not mandate that sexual education be taught in public school, which leads to a wide range of background knowledge in human sexuality among students.

The Texas Campaign reported 2016 data showed one fourth of Texas public schools chose not to teach sexual education at all. Of the Texas schools that did choose to teach human sexuality, nearly 60 percent were reported as teaching abstinence-only curriculum.

Abstinence can have many benefits and can be a wonderful thing, according to Rayne, but when it is posed to students as an either/or situation of you are good if you are abstinent and bad if you are not, it becomes confusing for students and takes away their own authority and autonomy of making decisions for themselves.

“By the time [students] are in late high school, they will be looking around at their friends who are sexually active and saying, ‘they’re not bad — I love this person and they are sexually active, so what does that mean about this abstinence only paradigm that I’ve been taught,’” Rayne said, “We can’t compare any kind of sex as inherently dangerous, because it’s not.”

Jessica Trott, a senior radio-television-film major, felt the effects of this either/or mentality. Trott, who is from Keller, Texas, learned about sexual education as part of her high school health class curriculum.

“I felt well informed about the repercussions of sex, but it mainly made me feel like if I did it, I would be super shamed and dirty because I’d get all of these diseases,” Trott said. “It really made me scared to even think about having sex.”

Since sexual education curriculum is not monitored by the state of Texas, two local districts seem to have slightly different takes on teaching sex education.

In 2019, Austin Independent School District revisited its curriculum and decided to make revisions to it. While there was quite a bit of controversy around the discussion of updating their teachings, AISD now states that it includes the most current and scientifically accurate information. Their curriculum was developed from The National Sexuality Education Standards.

Rebecca Rogers, an AISD employee and mother of two future students, believes sexual education is crucial to ensure that all students have an opportunity to become educated to be informed and safe.

“It’s [the district’s] job to provide sexual education to all students, not just one group with specific moral beliefs,” Rogers said. “My job as a mom is to teach my kids my religious and moral beliefs about sex, and to talk about what they might learn and how that fits in with what we believe as a family.”

Leander Independent School District states it believes sexuality education begins at home and that parents should be the primary educator to their children in this particular manner. The curriculum the district teaches comes from the Austin Life Guard program.

According to the Austin Life Guard website, the program provides students with the tools needed to make healthy decisions, build strong relationships, and to experience the benefits of not having sex until marriage. The website also states that the teachings have an emphasis on character and healthy relationship development. Abstinence is the only 100 percent safe lifestyle choice, according to the Austin Life Guard website.

In 2017, Texas’ teen birth rate was ranked the seventh highest in the nation, according to the most recent statistics from Centers for Disease Control and Protection. Texas was reported to have 27.6 live births per 1,000 females in the 15-19 age group. The national average for the same age group came in at 18.8 live births per 1,000 females.

The state ranked with the lowest teen birth rate was Massachusetts. While the state was reported to have only 8.1 live births per 1,000 females in the 15-19 age group, it is still actively working to reduce this number. In January, the Massachusetts Senate passed The Healthy Youth Act.

The Healthy Youth Act would require schools that teach sex education to use, “the updated Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework to provide comprehensive, medically accurate and age-appropriate information, but it would also allow parents to opt their children out,” according the MassLive, a local news site.

While Texas still ranks high in teen births, it is actually experiencing the lowest numbers it has ever seen. Advocates of a more consistent sexual education curriculum say the state could further reduce the number.