Controversy over abstinence-only programs

Eric Van Allen

     Over the course of the last few months, the 81st Texas Legislature has been mulling over several different bills regarding the state’s sex education programs as they have recently come under heavy criticism across the country.

     Texas’ current sex education courses teach a curriculum referred to as “abstinence-only.” This policy focuses on persuading teens to not have sex, rather than the broader curriculum the majority of the rest of the country follows which includes information on sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) and providing preventative measures against them and pregnancy.

     However, changes to Texas’ required abstinence-only policy are underway. Senate Bill 515 will require sex education programs to teach content that includes contraception, STD’s, and medically accurate information. Senate Bill 1076 will require schools to not discourage or discriminate against the use of contraceptives. And House Bill 2923 forbids discrimination against students because of their sexual orientation. Many people, especially students, see the reforms as a progression.

     “I think the program focuses too much on the ‘no sex’ part and not enough on contraceptives,” Katie Lee, junior, said. “If a kid won’t listen when you tell him ‘sex is bad’, you should teach them other alternatives to abstinence.”

     However, despite the popularity of the new program across the country, some wish to keep the original abstinence policy, sparking quite the controversy.

     This ongoing debate has also stirred up other organizations throughout the state. The Texas Freedom Network (TFN) is an organization intended to fight problems found within Texas Legislature policies, including the lack of accurate sex education for students. In a recent study conducted by TFN, it was found that only 4 percent of abstinence-only programs teach any information about contraceptives or STD’s, information that TFN is using to persuade Texas Legislators to change the current program. Many students of Texas schools agree that the curriculum should be changed.

     “People who are more informed will make better decisions on whether to have sex or not,” Amanda Hatheway, junior, said. “And isn’t that the whole point of sex ed?”

     Although abstinence-only programs are considered outdate for the 21st century, they do have some merit. These programs encourage avoiding peer pressure and building self esteem. This method of teaching abstinence as a personal decision has helped many kids, especially young girls, to build their self-confidence and decision-making skills during some of their most vulnerable years.

     The abstinence-only program’s major downfall is its lack of improvement. Teen pregnancy rates have continued to rise throughout the United States, but especially in Texas, ranked 5 in highest teen pregnancy rates. According to a survey by Guttmacher Institute, 161,850 teens from ages 15 and under to 19 were pregnant in the year 2000. Along with the danger of teen pregnancy, this could also mean more widespread breakouts of sexually transmitted diseases, because less teens are using contraceptives that would prevent them from contracting the diseases.

     Despite the many ways and methods that exist of educating students, one thing is for certain: students are becoming more and more aware of the amount of sex that surrounds them. Sex is in the primetime TV shows; it’s glorified and sung about on the radio; books and tabloids litter the shelves with the sexual escapades of celebrities. This is a nation where only 7 percent of men and 21 percent of women save their first time for marriage. As shown through the reforms to the abstinence-only policies, the Texas Legislative Board obviously hopes to achieve a change in the curriculum as well as increased protection against sexual consequences within the coming days.