- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2004

For many students around the country, textbooks aren’t exactly a source of excitement. But for many Texas parents, they’re the source of a brewing controversy. And the debate it has touched off could have repercussions nationwide.

The controversy concerns the updating of health textbooks — in particular, the chapters on sex education.

The Texas board of education held two hearings to guide its decision earlier this month, when board members ruled to replace health textbooks now in circulation with updated texts, beginning in school year 2005.

The stakes are high. Texas is the country’s second-largest textbook buyer (after California), and publishing companies often market the books Texas adopts to the other 49 states.

The updated texts are required to include information on abstinence as well as medically accurate information on sex education. That means they must provide facts on the ineffectiveness of condoms and other contraception measurers in preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. The current textbooks omit that abstinence is the only 100-percent effective prevention of STDs and pregnancy.

Nationwide, 10 scientific studies prove abstinence education reduces teen sexual activity and dramatically decreases out-of-wedlock childbearing.

Texas has been a leader in updating curriculum guidelines to reflect the effectiveness of the abstinence message. State officials now require high-school health texts to “analyze the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods.” On Nov. 5, the board of education determined that the four health texts under consideration must meet this and other requirements. They also required that marriage be defined as not just between two “people” but between a man and woman.

Of course, certain contraception-promotion advocates (such as Planned Parenthood) claim the texts lack information about condoms. They say abstinence education is dangerous and could lead to more pregnancies and STDs.

They also claim the new textbooks wouldn’t include any information on contraception. But that’s misleading. Such information would be in the teacher’s manuals and in separate student supplements, so teachers could raise sensitive topics such as contraception when appropriate.

The danger of early sexual activity is much greater than the supposed dangers of abstinence education. It leads to higher child and maternal poverty, elevates STD risks and often leaves teenage girls depressed, even suicidal. It also contributes to adult marital failure.

Most sexually active teens say they wish they had waited until they were older before engaging in sexual activity. Nearly two-thirds of sexually active teens say they regret their initial sexual activity.

Unfortunately, nearly all government-funded comprehensive sex-ed courses — many misleadingly called “abstinence-plus” programs — refer little, if at all, to abstinence. They may mention it briefly, but it’s often presented as something (wink, wink) kids in the “real world” will ignore.

Far worse, though, is what some of these comprehensive sex education programs do contain: Explicit demonstrations of contraceptive use — especially condoms — and direct encouragement to experiment sexually. Such programs provide little or no encouragement whatsoever for teens to delay sexual activity until they’re older.

A recent Zogby poll found 3 in 4 parents disapprove or strongly disapprove of “abstinence-plus” curricula. About the same number say they want their children to get an authentic abstinence education. An overwhelming 91 percent say they want their teens taught sex is best when linked to love, intimacy and commitment, most likely in a faithful marriage.

In general, abstinence education curricula provide valuable character education, relationship education, marriage preparedness, refusal skills, action-and-consequence education, parent-teen communication skills, and factual information on STDs and the ineffectiveness of condoms.

Contrary to the claims of abstinence critics, most schools with an abstinence curriculum still teach the basics about contraception, but they teach it in a different class in order not to undermine the abstinence message. The vast majority of parents strongly support this approach.

The Texas health education guidelines are a welcome change from the messages of promiscuity and irresponsibility our teenagers have received for the last three decades.

Many educators and state legislators have finally decided to provide what parents clearly say they want.

Now that those voices have been heard, next year’s students will learn true abstinence is the best policy.

Melissa Pardue is a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

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