TEXAS VIEW: Sex ed in Texas isn’t working, support Mike Morath’s plan to fix itTHE POINT: Sex education should be about facts, not myths meant to scare teenagers from having sex.

It will be a tough sell for Texas education commissioner Mike Morath to persuade the state Board of Education to update Texas’ sex education curriculum for the 21st century, but it’s good to see he’s trying.
The board over the years has been so rooted in the past that it initially dismissed complaints about textbooks that described Mexicans as lazy and slaves from Africa as immigrant workers. That shouldn’t deter Morath; he’s doing the right thing.
Morath, a Republican appointee, recommended to the board last week that students begin learning about reproductive and sexual health in age-appropriate ways as early as kindergarten and understand “sexual risk avoidance” by the end of middle school. “Merely teaching health literacy is insufficient to result in behavioral change and positive outcomes,” said Morath’s recommendation.
He didn’t criticize abstinence-only classes, but that preferred approach has left Texas with a teen birth rate that ranks fourth in the nation; 31 births per 1,000 teenage girls compared with 20 births nationally. Abstinence-only is likely also a factor in 23% of Texas high school students saying they used no birth control before having sexual intercourse compared with 14% nationally.
Teenage births cost Texas taxpayers $1 billion a year in health care, foster care and lost tax revenue. That’s not to mention health care costs that aren’t associated with pregnancy. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says two in five sexually active teenage girls in America has had a sexually transmitted disease that can cause infertility and even death. Effective sex education can reduce that statistic.
More than 80% of Texas schools either teach abstinence-only or have no sex-ed classes, according to the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. Abstinence can be part of a sex education curriculum, but it shouldn’t devalue the importance of contraception. For example, one abstinence program reviewed by TFN described the use of a condom as a complex, six-step procedure rather a simple method to avoid getting an STD.
Sex education should be about facts, not myths meant to scare teenagers from having sex. Besides, the myths don’t typically work. More than half of all teenagers in the United States have had sex by age 18, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Schools providing fact-based sex education courses can help students make wise decisions to protect their health and avoid unwanted pregnancies.
Gender identity is another topic that should be part of any comprehensive sex education curriculum. That, too, is likely to agitate some board members. Morath’s report recommends students learn in primary grades to “show acceptance of others by respecting differing perspectives, while resisting prejudice and stereotypes.”
The commissioner’s recommendations will be reviewed by a panel of educators that will make revisions and give that document to the school board for its action. Too often, the board has acted as if its role is to protect students from today’s realities by pretending they don’t exist. That’s reflected in past textbook choices by the board that perpetuate stereotypes that have no place in today’s Texas.
Policies of denial won’t change unless this elected board hears clearly from Texans that they want their children to have as many tools as possible, including abstinence, to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Look up your board member at wrm.capitol.texas.gov and let him or her know you support policies based in facts and reality — not myths and wishful thinking.