NEWS: Austin American Statesman — Opinion: Students need sex ed standards to keep them healthy and safe

to discuss changes to the sex ed standards. The initial meeting was held on January 28 – 31, 2020 in Austin. In response to this important and progressive move, the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens (Ntarupt), Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Healthy Futures of Texas have penned this joint op-ed to the Texas State Board of Education emphasizing the need for medically accurate, comprehensive, age-appropriate sex ed standards for our youth.

Sex ed standards NTARUPT

Posted Jan. 31, 2020

 

Texas schools work hard to support families in preparing students for their futures. Unfortunately, far too many young Texans leave school unprepared for adulthood. For the first time since 1994, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is revising statewide standards for teaching about sex education. Last week, the SBOE hosted the first of three meetings to discuss changes to the Texas sex education standards. North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens and Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy agree that Texas students urgently need good information. A final vote by the state board is expected in September.

We have one of the highest rates of teen birth and the highest rate of repeat teen birth nationwide. Rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young adults are skyrocketing. Sexual harassment, dating violence, and bullying are widespread in every community.

State law allows but does not require, school districts to provide sexual health education. Unfortunately, there is no requirement that sexual health education be factual or based in evidence, which results in the delivery of misinformation to students. New sexual health curriculum standards must require that information be medically accurate, age-appropriate, inclusive, and proven effective.

Currently, almost 60% of over 1,000 Texas school districts are teaching an abstinence-only sexual health curriculum. While abstinence, when used perfectly, is an effective strategy to avoid pregnancies and STIs, it can fail. Data show that 63% of Texas students are sexually active by their senior year. Just telling kids not to have sex isn’t enough.

Research shows that abstinence-only education can harm students by withholding essential information, promoting dangerous stereotypes, stigmatizing youth, and perpetuating systems of inequity. Our kids deserve better.

Only 16% of Texas school districts offer “abstinence-plus” education, which also provides information on contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted infections, though 79% of adults in the U.S. believe teens should receive information about birth control and STI protection.

Learning about healthy relationships is a lifelong process that should start in early elementary grades. In the #MeToo era, it is crucial for sexual health education to extend beyond refusal, and include how to ask for or give consent. We should begin by teaching young children why and how to ask for a hug or fist bump – and how to say no if they don’t want one.

Students should learn signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships, both online and in person. Sex education can play a key role in the prevention of relationship violence, sexual harassment, and bullying while also supporting online safety, awareness of digital footprints, boundary-setting, and healthy relationship skills that will be vital over a lifetime.

All students deserve to learn the information they need to stay healthy and safe. Current health standards do not acknowledge the existence or needs of LGBTQ students, and they are overlooked or stigmatized in the classroom setting, and experience higher rates of risk for a number of health outcomes. Education standards should include cultivating respect for all, regardless of sexual orientation or identity.

The SBOE has the opportunity to ensure that Texas students receive information to keep them healthy and safe. Let’s hope they take it.

 

Greenberg is CEO with the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens, and Clayton is executive director with the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy