Don’t Mess With Texas

Texas has long been a haven of GOP-backed abstinence-only sex education, which tells young people to “just say no” until they’re married. It also teaches* them that condoms don’t work, birth control is virtually useless, men prefer helpless women, only sluts have sex, abortion will kill you, and you can get AIDS from tears. In other words, it tries to scare you dry (or limp).

The result? Texas not only has the highest teen birth rate in the country, but the highest repeat teen birth rate.

Abstinence-only sex ed obviously has a substantial impact on increasing the unwanted pregnancy rate, but that’s not the whole story. Texas is also one of the most anti-choice states in the country. It’s much more difficult to get birth control as a teenager in rural Texas than as a teen in, say, Seattle. It’s also bigger than just sex ed and health care — teenagers are more likely to wait to have children if you give them a reason to wait. For girls who have fewer educational and employment opportunities, who see first-hand how hard it is to get ahead or become upwardly mobile, who can only get health care when they’re pregnant, who get positive feedback for pregnancy and child-rearing in a way that they don’t for any other achievements, and who haven’t been given other options to aspire for, having a child (or children) can look pretty good. It’s a rational choice.

This illustrates why we need to advocate for reproductive justice, not just reproductive rights. Rights are important. But unless we have a comprehensive and holistic way of addressing the various factors and imbalances in women’s lives, rights won’t be particularly meaningful. Imagine what this could do for Texas:

The Reproductive Justice Framework envisions the complete physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of women and girls. It stipulates that reproductive justice will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social, and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality, and reproduction for ourselves, our families, and our communities in all areas of our lives.

Comprehensive sex ed in Texas would be a good start in combating unwanted teen pregnancies. But it can’t be the whole story, and pro-choice advocates can’t loose sight of the big picture.

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*I use this term loosely.


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9 comments for “Don’t Mess With Texas

  1. Abby
    November 5, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Texas has long been a haven of GOP-backed abstinence-only sex education, which tells young people to “just say no” until they’re married. It also teaches* them that condoms don’t work, birth control is virtually useless, men prefer helpless women, only sluts have sex, abortion will kill you, and you can get AIDS from tears. In other words, it tries to scare you dry (or limp).

    I’m hoping this is hyperbole, because this was not my experience with sex ed growing up in Texas. In 5th grade, we got the menstruation/sexual anatomy talks (boys and girls in separate classrooms – I have no idea what the boys were told, probably a heads up about wet dreams or how sperm works).

    In middle school, a woman came and talked to my gym class about how great sex is – married sex, that is. And in high school, we did get a slide show about all the STDs you can possibly contract and what they look like.

    I’m not defending Texas’ “sexual education” policy by any means. There were definite fear tactics present, but the “only sluts have sex” mindset was introduced socially, not as any part of a curriculum or speaker series. And I didn’t grow up in a rural area, but it was a small town, and I was able to get birth control fairly easily from our family doctor in high school (being almost 18 probably helped).

    I suspect another contributor to the high teen birthrate/repeat birthrate is Texas’ large Hispanic population, whose teen birthrates tend to be higher due to a mix of poverty and cultural expectations (having babies is awesome! that’s what girls do!). This seems to reflect Jill’s statement:

    For girls who have fewer educational and employment opportunities, who see first-hand how hard it is to get ahead or become upwardly mobile, who can only get health care when they’re pregnant, who get positive feedback for pregnancy and child-rearing in a way that they don’t for any other achievements, and who haven’t been given other options to aspire for, having a child (or children) can look pretty good. It’s a rational choice.

    Overall, Texas’ sexual education is a joke. But it didn’t scare me out of having sex, or pretending to be helpless so boys would like me more, or fearing touching people with AIDS, or obtaining contraception or abortion if I needed or wanted it. I don’t think any of my classmates took it seriously (except the slideshow about STDs…sheesh syphilis is pretty ugly) and I don’t think it hampered our ability to seek out the truth. Or condoms.

    There’s my $0.02.

  2. Hector B.
    November 5, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    Although this post was pretty commonsensical, Amanda at Pandagon recently posted that having babies at a young age might be the best strategy for poor teen girls.

    The Lufkin article doesn’t say if these babies are truly unwanted, or even if the 15-19 year olds are single.

  3. ekf
    November 5, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    The Reproductive Justice Framework envisions the complete physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of women and girls. It stipulates that reproductive justice will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social, and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality, and reproduction for ourselves, our families, and our communities in all areas of our lives.

    I love these thoughts, but it’s only half of the picture, of course. I’d love if we could focus on the “complete physical, mental and spiritual well-being” of men and boys, too. We need to teach them to be secure in who they are so that they can communicate with self-actualized women without resentment, terror and social pressure to dominate. While men and boys, on average, have better access to economic and political power, there is still a question of how much social pressures exist to push males away from healthy choices about their bodies, sexuality and reproduction. Women won’t get reproductive justice in a rape culture, and, until we also take seriously the education of men and boys in terms of healthy sexuality and ego-construction, the efforts towards women will, on some level, continue to be undermined by the fear of rape and the social messages about being a virgin or whore (depending on how effective a sexual gatekeeper is with respect to the mandatorily horny males).

    I get that in Texas we need to focus on women first, as the teen birth rate does indicate a need for better birth control, which is more reliably involved when girls have other interests, such as sports or arts. But this is a situation where a “what about the menz?!?” question seems like a reasonable one, one that is a prerequisite to women being able to fully attain their goals.

  4. November 5, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Can I get a “yee-haw”? We’re number one!

    Seriously, though, our culture, particularly in rural areas, strongly discourages contraception while somewhat strongly encouraging sexual activity. The joke in Alpine when I was growing up was that there wasn’t anything else to do. That said, I can safely say I have no idea how you’d go about getting condoms, much less the pill, without everyone finding out. I knew so many girls who got pregnant and if you’d ask ’em about it, they didn’t even consider contraception. It wasn’t on the radar. Then I met more city kids when I went to college and the use of it is a lot more normalized for them.

  5. November 5, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    I blogged about this today, as well. You know, the statistics tell it all. In California, abstinence-only education is not allowed in public schools. In Texas, it’s required.

    From 1992-2000, Texas’ teen pregnancy rate dropped by 18%, and California’s teen pregnancy rate dropped by 40%. It’s pretty clear which method works best.

  6. car
    November 5, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    Texas is great for not educating children in need – NPR had a story on last week about the recidivism rate for juvenile offenders. In Missouri, where the focus is on treatment and counseling and basically treating kids like kids, the repeat offender rate is around 7%. In Texas, where they’re treated like adult prisoners and not given any extra services, it’s over 50%.

  7. November 5, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Abby: It’s true, we’re regressing; I had somewhat reality based sex education in the mid-80s. However, the Current Education Code (specifically, Section 28.024) has only been in effect (and amended several times) since 1995. A report on the inefficacy of the plan first surfaced in 2005.

  8. Rebecca
    November 5, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    Hey, Amanda! We have the same joke in my hometown. Asked why there is such a horredously high rate of alcohol and drug abuse? What else is there to do? Ask whey so many teens are sexually active? What else is there to do? Why have kids as teens? What else is there to do?

    That last one is actually a response a friend gave me shortly after graduating from high school. She was planning on applying for a job at the local Whataburger and getting pregnant as soon as. College wasn’t even a blip on her radar, even though we live in a college town.

    Sex ed here in Texas is a joke. Especially the area where Iive, being a very conservative, Baptist dominated area, abstinence pledges and chastity vows are very common. What’s sad is the sheer amount of misinformation that teenagers have. Since no one is telling them the truth, they are relying on friends, older siblings and cousins and TV. Yeah, that doesn’t work out all that well.

  9. November 6, 2007 at 12:54 am

    I’m not surprised that Texas ranks near the top in repeat teen births. This is exactly what happens when you have an abstinence-only policy. I wouldn’t be surprised if all thirteen Southern states (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Oklahoma in addition to Texas) rank in the Top 20 in the nation in repeat teen pregnancies. Allendale County, South Carolina; just to the south of my home county of Barnwell; has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.

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