Probably bad news for Rick Perry and his state's abstinence-only approach to sex-ed: according to a study by the University of Texas' Health Sciences Center at Houston, about one in ten Texas sixth graders have had sex. If that seems like a lot of precocious preteens to you, imagine how frighteningly large the proportion seems to the stalwart sex-educators of Texas, some of whom, according to HuffPo, employ such cutting-edge teaching tools as biblical short answer questions. Forget for a moment how much you hate short answer tests because they make your hands cramp, and consider instead that using the Bible to teach kids about sex is sort of the same as using a textbook that's a couple thousand years out of date, except that isn't so much a textbook as a collection of occasionally apocryphal parables. Oh, and it's loaded with all kinds of inconsistently taboo sex like incest.
This most recent study, published Monday in the Journal of Applied Research on Children, comes after a 2010 study by the Guttmacher Institute that similarly found that Texas youth were "disproportionately represented" in respect to the nation's teen birth and pregnancy rates. Most alarming is that Texas girls are at much higher risk for sexually-transmitted diseases (probably because they've largely been denied access to health care, contraceptives, and accurate information) and that the teen pregnancy rate, already at 63.1 per 1000 women ages 15-19, is rising. The study authors write,
By 2015, the Texas teen pregnancy rate is estimated to increase by 13% to a projected rate of 127 per 1000. Texas ranks fourth among US states for Chlamydia (15.3%) and sixth for gonorrhea (2.0%) among females ages 15-24 years screened at family planning clinics. Texas also ranks 12th among states for diagnosed HIV cases among teens ages 13-19.
The study correlates early sexual initiation with a rise in STI transmission and found that, based on state-level data, the percentage of 6th graders who've reported having sex (8%) rose to between 13-25% of 7th and 8th grade students. The study concludes that "changes in policy and practice" of sex-ed programs are "urgently needed at the state and national levels to combat the negative public health consequences associated with early sexual initiation." Jane Brown of the University of North Carolina echoes the sentiment that the punitive, abstinence-only approach to teen sex in Texas requires a drastic change in a corresponding opinion piece, part of which was published on the Houston Chronicle's momhouston blog:
Even though Texas does allow teens to get tested and treated for STIs and HIV, teens may not get prescribed contraceptives without their parents' consent. In fact, Texas health care providers are supposed to tell the police when they see patients under 17 who may be having sex. Given that sexual initiation begins as early as 6th grade –- and almost two thirds of high school seniors in Texas are sexually experienced –- thinking of teenage sex as criminal behavior seems especially myopic.
Since entering adolescence means becoming sexually-charged, kids ought to know what the hell sex is biologically all about so that they don't grow up in fear that if they ever decide to have kids, a pterodatcyl-sized stork will sweep over their house and bombard them with screaming infants. I don't think any adult is particularly thrilled by the prospect of having a sex talk with a twelve-year old kid (a fact that in itself could lead to a whole discussion about America's puritanical squeamishness but whatever), but, being part of the responsible faction of humanity, adults have a responsibility to educate children and at least provide as much information and guidance as possible so that kids can make informed decisions about what to do with their bodies. Adolescence introduces kids to sex whether adults do or not and any argument against fact-based sex-ed simply ignores the issue.
Study Finds One In 10 Texas 6th Graders Have Had Sex [Houston Chronicle]
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