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Op-Ed: Texas voters support abstinence-plus sex ed in schools

The values that parents and families instill in their children from an early age play an important role in a young person’s decision about whether and when to become sexually active. The State Board of Education (SBOE) has a rare and important opportunity to build upon the work of families to prepare Texas students with the information they need to stay safe and healthy.

It’s been 22 years since Texas revised the minimum curriculum standards that guide health education known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The SBOE’s first public hearing on the sex ed standards begins June 29 with a final vote expected in November.

A new poll conducted by Baselice and Associates on behalf of the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy finds a large majority of Texans across the political spectrum support data-driven, medically accurate information being taught in sex education.

Sex education is a bipartisan issue.  Seventy-four percent (74%) of respondents, including 68% of Republicans, support “abstinence-plus” sex education, which teaches students abstinence is the safest choice, but also provides medically accurate information about topics such as contraception, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and healthy relationships.

When used perfectly, abstinence is the best form of protection against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. But research shows that 63% of Texas students become sexually active by their senior year of high school and virtually all will need information about sexual health at some point in their lives.

Consent is key. Eighty-eight percent (88%) of respondents, including 86% of Republicans, agree that students should learn about consent, including respecting the boundaries set by other people about their bodies. TEKS developed in the 1990s require school districts that teach sex ed to focus on refusal skills. While knowing how to say “no” is important, Texans agree that we also need to teach students about setting and communicating one’s own boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others. This can happen in an age-appropriate way. For example, elementary-aged youth can ask for a high five instead of a hug, or middle school students can communicate their boundaries around how often they want to SnapChat with a friend.

Respect is a Texas value. Research shows that LGBTQ youth disproportionately face bullying and discrimination, which can have tragic consequences for mental health. Seventy-five percent (75%) of poll respondents, including 65% of Republicans, agree that “To help prevent bullying of LGBTQ youth, Texas public schools should include standards around cultivating respect for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or identity.”

At a time when every issue seems hyper-politicized and divisive, this poll reminds us that a large majority of Texas voters agree that sex education should be age-appropriate, medically accurate, and give kids the tools they need for healthy relationships and healthy futures. The Texas State Board of Education can feel confident adopting minimum standards for sex ed which are supported by data and embraced by Texas voters. To learn more, visit www.texasisready.org

Jen Biundo is Director of Policy and Data at the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy