The Texas State Board of Education gave preliminary approval this week to a sex education policy that includes teaching middle schoolers about birth control beyond abstinence — its first attempt to revise that policy since 1997.
In jam-packed meetings held Wednesday through Friday, the 15-member Republican-dominated board came one step closer to revising minimum standards for what Texas students learn about health and sex. It is expected to take a final vote in November.
The board voted to teach seventh and eighth grade students to "analyze the effectiveness and the risks and failure rates ... of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods in the prevention of STDs, STIs and pregnancy," in addition to the importance of abstinence. Currently, learning about birth control methods beyond abstinence is only a requirement in high school, where health education is an optional course.
But the board rejected proposals to teach middle school students about the importance of consent or teach any students to define gender identity and sexual orientation.
At public hearings in June and earlier this week, many current and former Texas public school students said they received little to no sex education, instead learning from pornography or uninformed friends. Many rallied for comprehensive sex education that explained options for contraception, the importance of consent and the definitions of gender identity and sexual orientation.
A smaller number showed up in favor of abstinence-only education, which promotes teaching students to avoid sex until marriage, not how to have safer sex. Federal data shows Texas consistently has one of the highest teen birth rates in the country, which studies show correlates with an emphasis on abstinence-only education. About 39% of Texas high school students report having had sex, but less than half of them used condoms and a small percentage used birth control pills.
Experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association, oppose abstinence-only education and champion comprehensive sex education, including accurate information about contraception, human sexuality and sexually transmitted infections.
Texas elementary and middle schools must offer health education for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, but high school students do not have to take it to meet state graduation requirements.