1800s- pamphlets about venereal diseases, overall good hygiene, and the evils of prostitution and masturbation were widely distributed outside of schools.
1913- Chicago attempts to formally introduce sex-ed into their school systems. The Catholic Church helps shut it down. (11)
1914– The American Hygiene Association was founded to teach soldiers about sexual hygiene throughout the war. They would later be involved in creating school curriculums.
1916– Planned Parenthood is founded in New York.
1919– A report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Children’s Bureau was released that suggested soldiers would have been better off if they had received sex instruction in school. (11)
1920s– resurgence of interest in getting sex-ed into schools.
Between 20-40% of U.S. school systems had programs in social hygiene and sexuality. (11)
1930s– The U.S. Office of Education began to publish materials and train teachers.
1964– The medical director at Planned Parenthood, Mary Calderone, founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) in part to challenge the American Social Hygiene Association.
1968– A pamphlet called “Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?” is widely distributed by Gordon Drake and James Hargis framing sex ed as a way to indoctrinate children into communism. Thus began the scary rhetoric that sex-ed was teaching students to be homosexuals and that teachers were having sex in front of students. (11)
1980s– The AIDS epidemic takes hold. Religious groups use this public health crisis to push their own agenda and convince school board members and legislative officials that abstinence-only sex education was the only way to keep kids “safe.”
1981– President Regan signed the Adolescent Family Life Act (aka the “Chastity Law” –yikes!). This law allowed federal funding to go to abstinence-only programming. And abstinence-only sexuality education (AOSE) and abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) programming became the norm in the US.
2004: Study is published showing the harms of abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs and the importance of investing in comprehensive sexuality education. There are plenty more studies that have been published since reaffirming the same results. (It’s possible there were studies earlier than this, but this was the earliest one we could find. Know of an earlier one? Please get in touch!)
2018: Under the Trump administration, Abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) is rebranded to be Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) (1). More federal funding goes towards pushing these programs.
And now on to Texas…
The state of Texas has had a long history of abstinence-only sexual education, and much of their sex education today is either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus. .
In 1981, when Congress signed the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) that enacted the Title X program, Texas received a very large portion of that funding (1). In order to receive this federal money, Texas schools had to adhere to the federal definition of abstinence until marriage education (1).
In 2010, under the Obama administration, much of this funding was replaced with funding to support teen pregnancy prevention programs, but Texas declined to apply for any of this funding (2,3).
1995: The Texas Education Code section that directly correlates to sex education instruction, sec. 28.004, was first written and has not faced significant changes since (4). This education code mandates that abstinence always be presented as the chosen relationship method.
2007-08: In the 2007-2008 school year, 94% of Texas school districts relied on abstinence-only sex education that largely omitted discussion of contraception usage, according to a study done by the Texas Freedom Network.
2015-16: The Texas Freedom Network found that in the 2015-2016 school year, the number of school districts that relied on abstinence-only teachings dropped to 58% (5). It is important to keep in mind that, in spite of this percentage dropping, there are still districts and schools that teach nothing at all.
The most notable legislation regarding sex education in Texas is, well, there isn’t. Better said, a mandate on sex education in the state of Texas doesn’t exist, which is why some districts can adopt abstinence-only, others abstinence-plus and others not teach sex education at all.
Section 28.004 in the Texas Education Code mandates that the implementation, or lack thereof, of a sex education curriculum, is to be under the guidance of the school district health advisory council, and said curriculum will reflect “local community values.” The school health advisory council has a variety of duties, among them is to recommend health education and “appropriate grade levels and methods of instruction for human sexuality instruction (6).”
Within the same section, the code dictates that any course materials relating to human sexuality or other related themes must center abstinence as the “preferred” behavior in sexual relationships for single individuals, and in doing so, spend more time emphasizing and directing students to abstinence instead of other sexual behaviors. Teaching about contraception and condoms must rely on realistic success rates instead of perfect usage rates if instruction on contraception and condoms is at all included in curriculum content. School districts cannot distribute condoms in instructing sex education (6).
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
Sex education, in short, is not required in Texas public schools. If a school does decide to implement some type of sex education, it must be in accordance with the school health advisory council. Since these health advisory boards are meant to maintain and reflect community morals, this is to say that if there is any sex education in a school, it is often far from comprehensive.
Additionally, what’s intriguing about the legislation in Texas is that, while the state government does not mandate sex education, it does mandate AIDS and HIV education. Texas’ Health and Safety code no. 85.004 states that the department shall develop model education programs to be available to educate the public about AIDS and HIV infection and these programs must be scientifically accurate and factually correct. The same code states that the department shall include specific information designed to reach specific populations, including individuals with behavior “conducive” to HIV passage, individuals younger than 18 years of age, and “minority” groups. Within this programming, the State of Texas mandates that educators must include that “homosexual conduct” is not an “acceptable lifestyle” (7).
What the kids are actually learning...
What students in Texas public school districts are learning depends on the district itself. Whether or not the district chooses to implement a sex education program is entirely up to them.
Various individuals who have grown up and attended Texas public schools didn’t receive sex education at all but have received other health education that supposedly reflects the values of the community, such as drug prevention.
If you’re interested, you can see the curriculum guide for the prevention of HIV and other communicable diseases for PreK-3rd grade made in 1992, here.
The Texas Education Agency has also created a list of HIV/AIDS prevention resources, which includes different sex-ed curricula (1). At the top of the list, the authors specifically note that the districts are to be responsible for any associated costs of purchasing the curriculum.
This list provides us with a general idea of what Texas students are learning if the district chooses to implement any of these programs. One of these programs is called Big Decisions, made for grades 7-12. The key messages of this program are that having sex with someone is a big decision, abstinence is the most effective way to avoid both pregnancy and STIs, and teens who choose to have sex need to use latex condoms and effective contraception (8).
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
Studies show that the culture of sex education in Texas is already undergoing significant change. What is more is that the Texas Freedom Network notes that the State Board of Education is set to rethink the education standards in 2020, and this could result in a huge change in the health curriculum standards (9). What will happen in these years to come is only a matter of time.
More resources for ya...
Written by: Alice Rhoades
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) “Sex Education in Texas Public Schools: Progress in the Lone Star State.” Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, November 2011.
(2) “How Sex Education Is Funded.” Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
(3) “Sex Ed in Texas.” The Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
(4) Wiley, Dr. David, and Dr. Kelly Wilson. Edited by Ryan Valentine. “Just Say Don’t Know: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools.” Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, 2009.
(5) “Conspiracy of Silence: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools.” Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, 2016.
(6) “Courses of Study; Advancement.” Texas Education Code. Texas Education Agency.
(7) “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection.” Texas Education Code. Texas Education Agency.
(8) “Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) Prevention Resources.” Texas Education Agency.
(9) Realini, Dr. Janet P. “Youth Curriculum: Big Decisions.” Big Decisions.
(10) “State, National Orgs to Texas: Teach the Truth on Sex Education.” Texas Freedom Network. Texas Freedom Network, September 19, 2019.
(11) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.