November 5, 2004

Texas Citizens for Science
Steven Schafersman, President
(432) 352-2265

The Texas State Board of Education Adopts Censored, Ineffectual,
and Dangerous Health Education Textbooks for Texas Schools

The health education textbooks just adopted by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) today deliberately omit information about contraception, prophylaxis, birth control, family planning, abortion, sexual intimacy, different sexualities, and many other topics vital to protect a student's health and well-being. Instead, the textbooks all devote an inordinate amount of attention to sexual abstinence-only, the Texas method of choice to deal with adolescent sexuality. The result will be a decade of Texas teenagers effectively kept ignorant of the most important information they need to deal with the sexual situations and problems they face almost daily.

The further result of such willful ignorance is the fact that Texas ranks 1st in teenage births and 5th in teenage pregnancies; the prevalence of syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV among Texas teenagers is also among the highest in the nation. These undesirable statistics are completely avoidable, because northern states have rates 50% lower than Texas, and other industrialized countries (such as European countries and Japan) have rates about 10% of those in Texas, since they provide their adolescent students with reliable, scientific, and honest instruction about human sexuality.

Texas is now experiencing an epidemic of sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted teenage pregnancies, but the SBOE (and the Texas Commissioner of Health) not only ignores this problem, it is working to make the problem worse by adopting abstinence-only health instruction materials that have been proven to be ineffective and counter-productive. This policy is both unethical and harmful. Believing that students this age will remain abstinent--because that is all that is taught to them in Texas health education classes--is more than unrealistic, it is absurd and dangerous. Reliable statistics reveal that over 60% of Texas school students will engage in sexual activity before they turn 18.

One of the worst aspects of the Texas textbook adoption process is that all the new 2005 health education textbooks submitted for adoption in Texas (the "Texas editions") came pre-censored by the authors and publishers to appeal to the Texas market! Although teenaged students are desperate for reliable and realistic information about sexuality, contraception, and STD prevention, all of the books omit these vital topics, thus continuing the propagation of ignorance among young adults in Texas. The publishers claimed that the required information about "barrier contraception" is contained in their textbooks, but this is untrue. The student editions omit the topic completely, while the teacher editions cover the topic by repeating the language of the Texas TEKS requirement, thereby avoiding the issue. None of the editions of any of the textbooks contain the required analysis of health benefits of using contraception compared to remaining abstinent or engaging in sexual activity while not using contraceptives. The claim that teachers will cover contraception in their classrooms is ludicrous; they will avoid the topic unless it is in the textbook.

The adopted health textbooks are actually dangerous to the health of students, since they solely promote a dangerous abstinence-only ideology. Abstinence-only is used almost exclusively in Texas because it is consistent with the extreme religious beliefs of many Texas citizens and because federal money is available to pay for the programs. The current administration in Washington lavishly funds abstinence-only sex education, at the same time cutting funds for programs that include information about other ways to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. To support this position, the administration has distorted scientific evidence about what works in sex education. Many doctors, scientists, and health care workers have decried this unethical practice.

Studies by Advocates for Youth (AFY) on the long-term impact of federally-funded abstinence-only programs on teen sexual behavior confirm recent literature on the subject: the programs have no long-term effect on teens' intentions to have sex, but sour them on contraception, making it less likely they will take responsible measures to protect themselves if they do engage in intercourse. The AFY studies found there was "no lasting, positive impact" on sexual behavior: "No evaluation demonstrated any impact on reducing teens' sexual behavior at follow-up, three to 17 months after the program ended." In short, abstinence-only programs were highly unlikely to positively affect participants' sexual behaviors, and actually discouraged safe sexual practices and increased unhealthy practices.

AFY evaluators noted that abstinence-only programs' emphasis on the failure rates of contraception, including condoms, "left youth ambivalent, at best, about using them." Latex condoms are highly effective at preventing both sexually-transmitted diseases and pregnancy, especially when used with proper training. But abstinence-only programs denounce condom use, mislead students about their effectiveness, and naturally fail to provide students with instructions on how to use them correctly. The results are consistent with a Columbia University study by sociology chair Peter Bearman. Bearman's study, which tracked the sex lives of 12,000 adolescents between 12 and 18 years old over a five-year period, "found unsafe sex much greater among youth who'd signed pledges to abstain from sex" until marriage. The "virginity pledge" is a key component of many abstinence-only education programs.

AFY found that abstinence-only sex education had no positive effect on sexual attitudes or behaviors. From 1991 to 1997, the proportion of 9th through 12th graders reporting that they have had sexual intercourse decreased significantly by 11 percent. But from 1999 to 2003, the period coinciding with the ascendance of the abstinence-only agenda, changes in sexual experience leveled off.

Pregnancy isn't the only risk of unprotected sex: nationwide, half of new cases of STDs and HIV occur in people aged 15 to 24. Even the strongest appeals for abstinence won't keep some teenagers from sexual experimentation. Is it wise for the adults who claim to love their children to act in a way that tends to turn a poor choice into a death sentence? In fact, most adults don't. Studies show that the great majority of parents want their children given reliable and scientific sex education (93% of parents with high school children say it is appropriate to teach teens about birth control and methods of preventing pregnancy, while 84% of parents with high school children say it is appropriate to teach students how to use and where to get contraceptives.) Until the adults on the Texas SBOE begins to treat human sexuality in an honest and scientifically-realistic manner within the health education curriculum, Texas will continue to have some of the worst sexuality and health statistics in the nation.