Students, leaders speak out for evidence-based sex ed

William James Gerlich

Sex education in Texas public schools will become more comprehensive if student lobbyists and a state representative get their way. About 75 students from across Texas assembled at the Capitol on Tuesday to advocate for what they call age-appropriate, evidence-based sex education in public schools, as opposed to the abstinence-only policies currently in place. Mackenzie Massey, president of UT’s Texas Freedom Network Student Chapter, helped organize the event to promote a bill authored by Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. Under the bill, public schools will teach abstinence-only as the most effective way to prevent teen pregnancy. Schools will also have to present information about the effectiveness of methods including condoms and oral contraceptives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for reducing the risk of sexually transmitted infections and preventing pregnancy. “This legislation will make sex education medically accurate, focusing on both abstinence and contraception,” Massey said. At the event, Castro encouraged students to be a voice for their peers and claimed this piece of legislation to be the most important bill legislators consider this session. Castro also explained that under Education Works, schools would have the option to opt out of teaching sex education altogether, and parents who do not approve of comprehensive sex education could pull their children out of classes that teach it. “We have tried the abstinence-only policy for quite a while, and the numbers speak for themselves. It just doesn’t quite work in Texas,” Castro said. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Texas had the third-highest teen birthrate in the nation in 2006. For every 1,000 teens between the ages of 15 and 19, there are 63.1 live births. Mississippi has the highest rate, at 68 live births per 1,000 teens. But the conservative think-tank Family Research Council claims abstinence education successfully reduces self-reported sexual involvement among students. “In light of recent studies showing the positive health benefits of abstinence education, it is unfortunate that Congress has zeroed out abstinence education in favor of sex-ed programs that advocate high-risk sexual behavior when it is children and young teens who suffer the consequences,” Perkins said. Under former President George W. Bush’s administration, states that taught abstinence-only sex education in public schools could receive federal funding for their programs. According to the CDC, Texas received more abstinence-only funding than any other state, but has the highest repeat teen pregnancy rate. In 2010, Congress redirected the funds to states that promote comprehensive sex education. Since that decision, Texas has had to fund its sex education solely on a state level. If Castro’s bill passes, the state could again receive federal funding, he said.