General Articles

Rising Teen Pregnancy Rates Steer Texas School Districts away from Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage

Some Texas school districts are transitioning from an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach to more comprehensive sex education programs in response to rising teen pregnancy rates. Austin Independent School District, Hays Consolidated Independent School District, and Lufkin Independent School District all adopted sex education curricula that teach about both abstinence and contraception for the 2009–2010 school year. Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest school district, is also considering implementing a more comprehensive sex education curriculum beginning in the 2010–2011 school year. And, school districts in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley are also using more comprehensive sex education programs.[i]

Texas has the fourth highest teen pregnancy rate in the country among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.[ii] And, many individual counties and school districts in the state have experienced a drastic increase in the number of teen pregnancies in recent years.  In Austin, for example,  the pregnancy rate among high school students has increased by 57 percent since the 2005–2006 school year; and the teen pregnancy rate for Lufkin Independent School District is higher than the state average.[iii]   
Even in the face of growing adolescent sexual and reproductive health concerns in Texas, the adoption of a more comprehensive approach to sex education by some school districts reflects a drastic shift from the accustomed ideology of the state. Texas has historically been the epicenter of the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry. For both Fiscal Years 2007 and 2008 Texas received more federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs than any other state. For Fiscal Year 2007, this amount exceeded $18 million—the greatest amount of funding ever received by any state.[iv] Texas also houses some of the country’s most prominent abstinence-only until marriage industry leaders, including the Medical Institute, a conservative, right-wing organization that publishes faulty research to promote abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and Worth the Wait, Inc., which produces a nationally popular abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum by the same name. (see the SIECUS Texas State Profile for further details)
Moreover, the state sex education law does not require school districts to teach sexuality education. However, if a school district chooses to do so, the Texas Education Code mandates that the instruction present abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred choice of behavior for unmarried persons of school age and devote more attention to abstinence from sexual activity than to any other behavior among other stipulations.[v] A report released earlier this year examining sex education provided in Texas schools, Just Say Don’t Know, found that the majority of students do not receive any instruction on human sexuality apart from the promotion of abstinence until marriage; and that sex education curriculum materials used in Texas classrooms “regularly contain factual errors and perpetuate lies and distortions about condoms and STDs.”[vi]
The decision by some school districts to adopt a more comprehensive sex education curriculum is clearly a much-needed change. The new sex education curriculum used in Austin public schools, for example, includes detailed information on STDs and provides clinical data on the efficacy rates of different forms of contraception along with providing information on abstinence.[vii] Dr. Janet Realini, a San Antonio physician with extensive experience working in teen pregnancy prevention, developed the curriculum, titled, Big Decisions. Realini states that the curriculum, which is provided by classroom teachers, is honest and gives a lot of attention to abstinence while also encouraging condom use among sexually active individuals in order to reduce the risk of STDs and pregnancy as a key message.[viii]
“We applaud the efforts made by these school districts to implement a sex education curriculum that truly addresses the needs of young people,” stated William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. “It is far time that Texas schools do their part to address the poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes among adolescents by providing real education rather than continuing to rely on the failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that have prospered in  their state .”

[i] Brenda Bell, “Some Texas Districts Change Tune on Abstinence-Only Sex Ed,” Austin American-Statesman, 27 September 2009, accessed 4 October 2009, <>.

[ii] Sexual and Reproductive Health of Persons Aged 10–24 Years – United States, 2002–2007, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Surveillance Summaries MMWR 2009;58 (17 July 2009), accessed 27 July 2009, <>.

[iii] Brenda Bell, “Some Texas Districts Change Tune on Abstinence-Only Sex Ed.”

[iv] See the Fiscal Year 2007 edition of the SIECUS State Profile

[v] See the SIECUS Texas State Profile.

[vi] David Wiley and Kelly Wilson, Just Say Don’t Know: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools, Executive Summary, (Texas: Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, 2009), 1.

[vii] Brenda Bell, “Some Texas Districts Change Tune on Abstinence-Only Sex Ed.”

[viii] Ibid.