Updated: Aug 21, 2020
In 1997, the world was shocked by the death of Princess Diana, Titanic broke records at the box office, and it was the last time Texas updated the reproductive and sexual health standards used for instruction in public schools. For the past 23 years, Texas schools have operated under those standards for sex education, but in 2019, the State Board of Education (SBOE) began the process to adopt updates. This is a huge opportunity to create relevant standards for today’s youth, and ensure they are pertinent for future generations of Texas students.
Understandably, sex education can be a sensitive topic when seemingly contrasting ideologies take hold of the conversation. However, there is plenty that most Texans agree on, and it is a vocal minority trying to place doubt in researched recommendations and the lived experiences of countless current and former Texas youth pleading for standards that recognize their realities. In fact, a recent poll found that 3 out of 4 Texas voters agree that abstinence-plus sex education should be taught in Texas public schools.[i]
By Texas statute, sex education taught in Texas public schools must emphasize abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred choice for school-aged individuals. Abstinence-plus teaches that abstinence is the safest option, and it also provides medically accurate information on important topics such as contraception, prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STI), and healthy relationships. Nearly two-thirds of Texas students report being sexually active by 12th grade.[ii] Withholding information about these critical topics does not prevent sexual activity, it only leaves youth uninformed and unprepared for any of the possible outcomes. Data show that providing this information does not make youth more likely to engage in sexual activity, but it does increase the likelihood that they will protect themselves now and in adulthood.[iii]
So much has changed over the past 23 years, including advances in technology that make information more accessible. One way or another, youth are going to learn about sex. The SBOE has the opportunity to adopt standards that are a trustworthy source of medically accurate information that respond to the needs of youth so they don’t have to rely on their peers or unverified online or media resources. Understanding key concepts such as consent and boundaries, inclusivity, and contraception equip youth with foundational skills that will be relevant in all aspects of their lives, not just sexual relationships.
The standards Texas adopts have an even bigger impact than what gets taught in our state. Texas education standards are influential across the country. Given our state’s influence on educational standards across the country, we should strive for excellence, not only for Texas youth, but also for the next generation.
Leah Gonzalez serves as the Policy and Advocacy Associate for Healthy Futures of Texas, primarily advocating for access to preventive healthcare – including contraception. She’s a native Texan, cat owner, and appreciates any time spent by a body of water.
Healthy Futures of Texas, The Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens (NTARUPT) have teamed up to form Texas Is Ready, a movement advocating for improved sex education curriculum standards for Texas youth. In November 2020, the State Board of Education will update the basics of sexual health education in Texas, and leading up to that decision, representatives from each of the organizations making up Texas Is Ready will release regular blogs explaining the broad range of issues related to sexual health education in Texas.
[i] Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy 2020 Polling Data conducted by Baselice & Associates [ii] Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, 2017 [iii] Dreweke, Joerg. “Promiscuity Propaganda: Access to Information and Services Does Not Lead to Increases in Sexual Activity.” Guttmacher Policy Review, 2019.