When In Texas: Just Say I Don’t Know

The official seal of Texas features six flags to signify six national identities Texans have known. But a report just issued by the Austin-based Texas Freedom Network Education Fund suggests that a seventh flag may need to be added.  They call Texas the "flagship state for the abstinence movement."  But of course identity has consequences and the study Just Say Don’t Know: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools reveals a flag of ignorance flapping smartly in the breeze over the state legislature that has made abstinence only the "preferred" method of teaching about human sexuality since 1995. 

Noting that Texas has among the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, the study also reports that the state spends "approximately $1 billion annually for the costs of teen childbearing." What’s more, the report underscores authoritative data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found "young Texans to be "well above national averages on virtually every published statistic involving sexual risk-taking behaviors" and that this may be "one of the most pressing public health issues facing our state."

"Our classrooms are perpetuating a conspiracy of silence that robs young people of the reliable information they need to make responsible life decisions, " Dr. David Wiley, a health education professor at Texas State University-San Marcos and one of the co-authors of the report.

Just Say Don’t Know is based on two years of research by Wiley and fellow health education professor Dr. Kelly Wilson which they describe as "the first, specific, in-depth examination of what is happening in classrooms, beyond the boardrooms where policy is established and companies where textbooks are developed."  Their analysis is based on tens of thousands of pages of documents, curriculum materials, and district policies from nearly all of the state’s more than 1,000 public school districts.

"We can now say with certainty the following about the state of sexuality education in this state," the authors declared.  "Abstinence-only programs have a stranglehold on sexuality education in Texas public schools.  An overwhelming majority of Texas school districts – more than 94 percent – do not give students any human sexuality instruction beyond abstinence.  Additionally, just over 2 percent simply ignore sexuality education completely.  What is left is a miniscule 4 percent of Texas school districts that teach any information about responsible pregnancy and STD prevention, including various contraceptive methods."

Wiley and Wilson stated that in their "professional opinion … our schools are failing Texas families by turning out generations of sexually illiterate young people at a time of high rates of teen pregnancy and STDs."

Texas is the single largest recipient of federal funds for "abstinence only" sexuality education programs to the tune of $18 million dollars last year.  Most states reject the funds because under federal rules, abstinence only means abstinence only.  That, plus abstinence only programs don’t work.  But Texas remains "stubbornly committed" to abstinence only approaches.

Some school districts don’t even bother with official abstinence programs and use religiously oriented programs produced by the religious right agency, Focus on the Family, or True Love Waits, produced by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Some Catholic and protestant fundamentalist dominated school districts skip the subject altogether because it would be "too controversial."

Turning a Blind Eye to Crackpot Claims

Unsurprisingly, the study found that "more than 3.7 million Texas students attend school in a district where they will not encounter even the most basic information about how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)."  Just Say Don’t Know reveals that the way that Texas schools address sexuality ranges from incompetent to bizarre, but that there is little oversight from the state or from school districts.

For example, one school district utilizes a skit that compares using a condom to committing suicide.  The skit titled "Jumping Off the Bridge" concludes:  "Giving a condom to a teen is just like saying, "Well if you insist on killing yourself by jumping off the bridge, at least wear these elbow pads – they may protect you some?"  Knowing that STDs can kill and that there is at least a 30% failure rate is like helping the teen kill them self [sic]. It is a lie to call condoms "safe sex."  If there is a 30% failure rate of condoms against life threatening diseases, then calling them a way to have "safe sex" is like "helping" someone commit suicide by giving them elbow pads to "protect" them or finding them the safest spot from the bridge to jump.’"

Crackpot claims about condoms are perhaps the leading misinformation promoted in many school districts, including long discredited assertions that latex condoms have tiny holes large enough for sperm to travel through, even if the condom is otherwise properly used.

Here are some of what the report says about the state of the programs they evaluated:  alarming," "shockingly poor," "blatant errors of fact mixed with misleading Information," scare tactics and shaming," "outdated gender stereotypes" "unconstitutional religious content."  And they say that the "examples are numerous and widespread."

At the Austin press conference announcing the report, Wilson stated that abstinence-only programs, "often promote restrictive, even sexist gender roles and suggest that flirts are responsible for aggressive male sexual behavior."   In one passage from an abstinence only program, she observed, "women are compared to crock pots that take awhile to get warmed up, while men are like microwaves that are ready to cook at a moment’s notice."

"While this kind of stereotyping may seem mild," she averred, "it should be shocking to learn that abstinence-only programs often suggest – sometimes in not very subtle ways – that it’s the fault of young women if men become too sexually aggressive. One such program used in about a dozen school districts puts it this way:  ‘A girl who shows a lot of skin and dresses seductively fits into one of three categories: One, she’s pretty ignorant when it comes to guys, and she has no clue what she’s doing. Two, she’s teasing her boyfriend which is extremely cruel to the poor guy! And three, she’s giving her boyfriend an open invitation saying, ‘Here I am. Come take me.’"

Texas Sized Problems

When it comes to Texas, size always matters, and it is worth noting that national textbook publishers have resorted to self-censorship to accommodate the Texas market, making Texas everyone’s problem. Just Say Don’t Know reports:

"Seeking to avoid previous political battles over providing information on contraception and disease prevention in health textbooks, publishers simply self-censored the health education textbooks they submitted for the 2004 Texas adoption process.  Consequently, abstinence-only sexuality education is presented as the only option in all the books except one…  used by less than 1 percent of school districts in the state – mentions the word "condom" exactly one time.  Though a single mention of condoms as protection against unintended pregnancy and STDs is a far cry from a comprehensive approach, it does surpass the three other textbooks, which fail to mention the word "condom" or any other form of contraception or method of disease prevention except abstinence from intercourse or other sexual behaviors."

An additional section of the report, authored by Ryan Valentine, deputy director of TFN Foundation, looked at the religious-based curricula, materials and speakers used by many districts and found numerous examples of flagrant and unconstitutional proselytization and religious indoctrination in the public schools under the guise of sexuality education.  He flagged, for example, "an emerging trend" currently in of using materials or speakers from antiabortion "crisis pregnancy centers."  CPCs he explains are "nonprofit organizations that offer counseling to pregnant women intended to persuade them to give birth rather than have an abortion.  Nearly all of these organizations are established by or affiliated with Christian antiabortion groups.  (It should be noted that sound sexuality education neither promotes nor discourages abortion.)"  He reports that 64 school districts currently draw on CPCs for their sexuality education programs.

The report makes a number of recommendations including the rejection of federal abstinence only funds; increased oversight of sexuality education curricula, and insistence on using excellent materials from reputable sources.   But it also suggests that improvements will not be easy, noting that in addition to profound resistance from conservative religious sectors, that the state is home to several leading abstinence promoting agencies, such as the Medical Institute for Sexual health, which was identified as a major source of misinformation finding its way into public school curricula on sexuality education.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact press@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    Hopefully policy makers in Texas will use the recommendations of this report for future sex education policy. They are doing such a diservice to the young people of their state. Comprehensive science-based sex education for all!

    I can’t believe an abstinence only agency would name themselves “Medical Institute for Sexual health”, there is nothing scientific about them. Their only goal is to further their ideological agenda aka not giving the youth of the USA accurate information about their sexual health to make healthy choices. I hope they will open their eyes and ears and realize their goals are hurting millions of people.

    Great article Mr. Clarkson

  • invalid-0

    It is very sad, indeed, and totally unjustified, that the purported Report from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, inappropriately and incorrectly attacks the credentials and integrity of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health (“MI”). Our goal is to help people enjoy the greatest possible degree of health, hope and happiness, by guiding them towards making the healthiest sexual behavior choices. It is, and always has been, the very watchword of our existence that what we produce will be entirely accurate, ideologically neutral, and complete. As to the specific attacks on some of the data we have presented in the past, virtually all our data has come from studies from reputable sources such as the CDC, NIH and other peer reviewed literature. It is true that since the publication of some of our data years ago, there has been additional research which has shed greater light on the subject. In every case, when we become aware of this information, we update our material. For example, we now know that condoms may well be of some help in reducing the risk of contracting HPV, and we so state. But recent studies have also shown that, in actual use, condoms are not “safe.” For example, in a recent study, the results showed that about 34% of females claiming to have used condoms every time they had sex had evidence of sperm found in their vaginas!! Is that “safe enough?” Further, other recent studies have found even higher condom failure rates in actual use than was previously believed.

    The purported Texas Freedom Network Report seems to take issue with revealing failure rates of contraception. Does this mean that we should not disclose the well documented truth about condom failure in actual use so that kids will be more likely to use them? The latest research coming from MI shows that the risks of early sexual involvement and multiple partners include not only STDs and pregnancy, but also emotional baggage that can affect one’s happiness and interpersonal relationships for years. Should that not be disclosed either? Everyone is entitled to full disclosure of the facts, a proposition we totally support at MI.

  • invalid-0

    The scientists at gnxp.com weigh in on teen pregnancy.

    After declining pretty steadily from 1991 to 2005, in 2006 teen birth rates showed a slight uptick. Rather than swallow what the mass media and doomsaying blogosphere infers, read the report for yourself — what you want to know is contained in the first 5 to 10 pages. Since most people worry about the long-term trend, and where things are going, I’ve taken data from the report’s tables and put them into easy to understand time-series graphs, broken down by race and ethnicity. I’ll then address a few of the larger issues.

    All birth rates are live births per 1000 women in a given group. I’ll only look at births to 15 – 17 year-olds because mothers younger than that are even rarer, and people freak out less about mothers at or above the age of majority. The 18 – 19 graphs look similar, and you can create them yourselves using the NCHS’ report and Excel. Update: see the end of the post for the one 18 – 19 year-old graph that is different, which shows birth rates among Hispanic 18 – 19 year-olds increasing since 2000. [End update]

    Most of the recent increase is due to 18 – 19 year-old births, so that’s another reason not to care about an increase in “teen pregnancy” — 18 and 19 year-olds are adults.

    Moreover, there is an increase across all age groups, especially 20 – 24.

    So, there’s nothing special about teens of any age — the 15 – 17 year-olds increased a bit, while the 18 and 19 year-olds appear to really be part of a larger group of 18 to 24 year-olds. (Nature doesn’t adhere to our numbering system, where there’s a bright line between 19 and 20.)

    Births are just up overall, and the closer we get to the female fecundity peak in the early 20s, the stronger the signal is…

    continued at


  • invalid-0

    Abtinence groups have abstinence as their goal, not just sexual health.

    Comprehensive sex ed groups have sexual health as a goal.

    The two groups are not seeking the same outcomes.

    While abstinence does guarantee protection from pregnancy and STD’s, those benefits are secondary for those promoting abstinence.

    Comprehensive sex ed groups promote abstinence and contraceptives as a means of acheiving the goals of preventing STD’s and pregnancy because the goal is sexual health not abstinence.

    So the divide remains.

  • http://thewelltimedperiod.blogspot.com invalid-0

    A quick look at your site would seem to indicate that your integrity is questionable.

    For example, on the HPV Vaccine page (random pick), you have:

    However, there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine

    • is effective against HPV types that are present at the time of immunization

    • reduces the risk of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

    • offers any protection against the other consequences of nonmarital sexual activity such as pregnancy and emotional damage

    Woosh goes your integrity right out the window! You don’t get to commit the unpardonable sin of trying to bamboozle lay readers and claim integrity at the same time.

  • http://thewelltimedperiod.blogspot.com invalid-0

    Abtinence groups have abstinence as their goal, not just sexual health.

    That’s an odd claim. Do you have any evidence that abstinence groups oppose martial intercourse?

    While abstinence does guarantee protection from pregnancy and STD’s….

    Explain to us how it’s possible to guarantee the effectiveness of a contraceptive method with an unknown typical-use rate.

  • invalid-0

    “Do you have any evidence that abstinence groups oppose martial intercourse? ”

    From reading the fundies posting here I think that it’s enjoying marital intercourse that is the problem with some of these guys. Marital intercourse is intended strictly for procreation. I’ll admit they appear to have conquered that problem for themselves and their partners and now wish to force the rest of us to comply with this ‘morality’. Any form of contraception promotes ‘promiscuity’ and the enjoyment of sex. Condoms are bad and do not work. Effective contraception kills ‘life’ and NFP, which severely restricts martial intercourse is the only method of family planning endorsed by the RCC.
    After reading these folks for a few months I’m not at all surprised that deranged women have taken to killing 8th month pregnant women by rendering them unconscious and cutting the baby out. There’s been quite a spike in this crime in the past 8 years. I believe it’s symptomatic of the pervasive ‘pro-life’ attitude of loving the blastocyst while devaluing women to the point where a blastocyst has far more intrinsic value than that of the woman in whose body said blastocyst/zygote/fetus resides.
    What an ugly religion. I suppose that’s what happens when ones idea of ‘morality’ is confined primarily to bizarre judgments about the entirely normal sex lives of other people.

  • amanda-marcotte

    I’m going to point out that you aren’t doing your cause any favors by using language that makes it very clear that you find sex, and especially women who have sex, to be disgusting and dirty.  Abstinence-only promoters are standing accused, correctly I feel, of promoting their prudery and hang-ups in order to feel justified in that, and of not really caring about health or people’s well-being.  Well-being includes having a good self-esteem, a happy sex life, and not suffering needless shame.  Clearly, you’re opposed to basic well-being, because you want to spread the shame and hang-ups you dangle out for everyone to see with helpless adolescents.

  • amanda-marcotte

    Deliberately misunderstanding someone to split hairs on an irrelevant point in order to look smarter while strenously ignoring the point.  That’s some pretty blatant red herring argumentation, the kind that even newbies in junior high debate could see through.


    Okay, they have abstinence-until-marriage as a goal.  In other words, they think 95% of Americas are dirty and deserve to get STDs and unintended pregnancy as punishment.  95%.

  • http://ugogirlwear.com invalid-0

    nice article

  • http://thewelltimedperiod.blogspot.com invalid-0

    Clearly, my cunning attempt to look smarter has failed. I don’t get your comment.

    The claim was made that indoctrination (premarital sex harmful, icky, and needs to be abolished; marital sex beneficial, magical, and the only valid option) and abstinence and sexual health education are one and the same. I challenged that claim.

    You don’t think that being accurate about the goals of abstinence groups is a relevant point? OK. I disagree.


  • invalid-0

    >> in actual use, condoms are not “safe.” For example, in a recent study, the results showed that about 34% of females claiming to have used condoms every time they had sex had evidence of sperm found in their vaginas!! Is that “safe enough?” Further, other recent studies have found even higher condom failure rates in actual use than was previously believed.

    There are two different issues here:

    1) Getting people to use condoms _at all_, which is a choice issue.

    2) Getting people to use condoms _properly_, which is a technique issue.

    Your organization’s scare tactics with respect to (1) make it less likely that condoms will be used by sexually active teens. Those that do use condoms are then deprived of the knowledge of how to use condoms properly (2).

    Unfortunately, “abstinence only education” guarantees that even if the message of responsible condom usage somehow reaches those who need it most, despite your best efforts, they will then have no idea how to properly employ this life-saving device.

    Fortunately, this information is available in many places on the Internet:


    In my California high school about twenty years ago, one day we came into the classroom to discover three items on every student’s desk:

    1) a lubricated condom
    2) a banana
    3) a photocopied set of manufacturer’s instructions, from the box

    In ten minutes, all of us (male and female) learned how to properly put on a condom. It’s not that difficult. Failure rates were discussed. The fact that a condom is not 100% protection was emphasized.

    >> Does this mean that we should not disclose the well documented truth about condom failure in actual use so that kids will be more likely to use them?

    Should we not disclose the well documented truth that helmets can fail in motorcycle accidents so that kids will be more likely to ride motorcycles?

    It is a well known psychological fact that teens are more likely to engage in risky behaviors. The question is not whether or not teens will have sex, as some of them will.

    Sex is risky. Riding motorcycles is risky; a friend of mine died on one two weeks ago. Life is risky. Even crossing the street is risky, yet we expect our kids to do this alone all the time.

    The best any of us can do is minimize the risks. Just as we teach our kids to look both ways, and insist that all motorcyclists wear helmets, we should teach our teenagers both the uses and the limits of condoms. Scare tactics and fear mongering, of the type put forth by your organization, is as ineffective at preventing teenage pregnancy as DARE (using the same methodology) is at preventing illegal drug use.

  • http://www.bestcashadvanceonline.com invalid-0

    This all sounds very interesting. I really feel that condoms should be an option for teens and other contreceptives. I also believe that it’s up to the parents to make sure their is an understanding of all the risks envolved in being sexually active. It shouldn’t be about religion, but based off of morals alone. Enough said by me, have a great day!