PRO: Abstinence is only sure way to prevent pregnancy, STDs
July 17, 2011 at 2:17 a.m.
SHOULD SCHOOLS TEACH ABSTINENCE-ONLY EDUCATION?Texas has had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation.
While the rate is on a decline, the state has not kept up with the national trend of reduced teen pregnancy. At the same time, Texas has also been the leading state when it comes to the amount of federal funds it receives for abstinence-only education.
In 2007, Texas received more than $18 million in federal funds for abstinence-only education, $5 million more than the next leading state. That same year, Texas continued to be ranked in the top five states when it comes to the number of teen pregnancies.
Teen pregnancy rates can be attributed to several factors besides simply sex education, but a 2004 Scripps Howard Texas Poll found that 90 percent of Texans support age-appropriate, medically accurate education that includes abstinence and other options like contraceptive use.
The state has been mostly unwavering, though, since its 1995 decision to require that schools always present abstinence from sex as the preferred choice of behavior for unmarried teenagers. The law does not prohibit other approaches to education, but a 2009 study by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund found that out of 990 Texas school districts, more than 94 percent do not give students any human sexuality instruction beyond abstinence. Should they?
In Roslyn Murphy's home, the topic of sex is hardly taboo when it comes to talking with her 11-year-old son.
That's where sex education should start, she said.
"He should know right or wrong because he's been taught by me and his dad," Murphy said. "As a parent, I need to teach my children about sex education, and biblically, I believe in what God is saying - to reiterate the reasoning for not having sex."
While studies about the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only education have been widely reported, pro-abstinence advocates are able to point to their own statistics.
A 2010 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that about a third of sixth- and seventh-graders who participated in abstinence-only education reported having sex two years later. Nearly half of the students who did not take an abstinence-only course reported having sex in the same time period, while the two groups' reported use of condoms remained the same.
Murphy said she agrees with the state's insistence that abstinence-based education be emphasized above all else. That's not to say contraceptives should be overlooked, because, as she said, "if it's not taught at home, and the school doesn't teach it, where do they get it from?"
The Texas Education Code states that if contraceptive use is taught at all, it must be explained "in terms of human use reality rates instead of theoretical laboratory rates."
That seems reasonable to Murphy.
"Using some type of protection does not always prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, and I think they need to tell them about the pros and cons," she said. "The only way that you will not get pregnant or have any STDs is by not having sex."
Murphy has more of a stake in the issue than just what her son may learn. She's also a part of Victoria's School Health Advisory Council, which the education code requires each district establish. The council, made up of parents, health leaders and district employees, is charged with ensuring the district's health education reflects a community's values.
Several years ago, the district used a program called, "Making the Grade," which was a one-day, abstinence-based program that has since dissolved.
The council has regular conversations about what sort of education would be most appropriate for the community's students, but the group has not come to a consensus, said Gloria Wearden, coordinator of health services for Victoria school district.
Like most recent issues in Texas public education, decisions are made based on dwindling funding.
Victoria schools do not offer a human sexuality curriculum beyond what students learn in their state-approved health courses.