Friday, April 10, 2009

A textbook case: sex education in the Lone Star State

by Chloe Angyal

Last week, the Texas Freedom Network released the findings its in-depth study of sex education in the Lone Star State.

As it turns out, sex “education” in Texas in anything but.

Did you know that fewer than 4% of Texas school districts teach medically accurate information on contraception and STI prevention? That’s more than 3.7 million American teenagers being denied life-saving information about how to protect themselves.

Did you know that 94% of schools are teaching abstinence-only education, wherein teenagers aren’t considered trustworthy enough to make smart, informed sexual decisions, and where women especially are taught that sex will make them unloveable “used goods”?

Did you know that Texan teens are being taught half-truths, kinda-truths and flat-out lies about contraception, like that the HIV virus is small enough to “get through” condoms? For those of us who were lucky enough to received comprehensive sex education, this last one sounds laughable, but the state of sex-ed in Texas is a very serious matter.

As the findings show, an overwhelming majority of Texan teenagers aren’t lucky enough to receive comprehensive sex education. And, as textbook battles in that state have shown us time and again, as goes Texas, so goes America. When it comes to textbooks and school curricula, Texas, due to the enormous size of its public school system, is seen as something of a testing ground for how other states might proceed. As far as sex education goes, Texas is setting dangerous precedents for the rest of the country.

It’s bad enough that schools, which are supposed to be teaching kids facts, are instead deliberately teaching them scientifically unsound information, like that the HIV virus can “get through” condoms or the unpardonable lie, told to students in the Baird Independent School District that “at least one of every fifty condoms does not meet leakage standards.”

But then there’s the danger of what happens when teenagers put those lessons in to practice. Telling students lies like these ones means that, when those teenagers break their forced abstinence pledges (and chances are, they will), they’re at an even greater risk of pregnancy and infection.

Finally, there are the outdated, regressive gender lessons that come with abstinence-only sex-ed, lessons that teach young people to fear and disdain female sexuality, while letting boys – those uncontrollable sexual beasts – off the hook. In the world of Texas sex “education,” girls are the gatekeepers, responsible not only for controlling their own sexual urges, because, as teachers following the “WAIT Training” curricula proclaim, having sex leaves women dirty and unmarriageable, but also because, as one curriculum claims, “if a guy is breathing, then he’s probably turned on.” In this world, women aren’t supposed to want sex, and shame on them if they do, and men are sex-crazed animals, aroused by the mere act of respiration.

As Texas goes, so goes America. Surely we, as Texans, as Americans, as human beings, can do better than this. Surely we can teach young people about the dangers and pleasures of sex without resorting to lying, shaming or scaring them. We can do better, and we must. Teen pregnancy rates are on the rise, and around 13% of the HIV diagnoses that happen every year are in people aged 13-24. This isn’t just about helping teenagers get good grades in Health class: their lives depend on it.

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