More Texas Schools Opting for 'Abstinence-Plus' Sex Education

September 16, 2011 — While abstinence-only programs remain the dominant sex education curricula for Texas public schools, some districts are opting for "abstinence-plus" programs, which focus on abstinence but include some information on contraception, the Texas Tribune/New York Times reports. Schools districts in Austin, Corpus Christi, San Antonio and Plano, as well as districts in Harris and Midland counties, have adopted or are in the process of adopting abstinence-plus curricula.

The Tribune/Times reports that the shift is partly a response to changes in federal policy. The Obama administration has replaced grants for abstinence-only programs -- favored by the George W. Bush administration -- with what it calls "evidence-based" teenage pregnancy prevention efforts that include teaching contraception. The Texas Department of State Health Services last year opted against applying for federal money for comprehensive sex education programs, and the state remains the largest recipient of federal abstinence-only dollars.

Another reason school districts have switched to abstinence-plus is because they realized how severe teenage pregnancy rates have become in the state, the Tribune/Times reports. According to 2008 data from the National Center for Health Statistics, Texas has the nation's third-highest birth rate among 15-to-19-year-olds.

Susan Tortolero, director of the University of Texas' Prevention Research Center and developer of some of the abstinence-plus curricula used in Texas, said, "We're getting calls from all over the state," adding, "It's like we're beyond this argument of abstinence, abstinence plus. Districts want something that works." Research shows that teaching teenagers about contraception delays sexual initiation, she said.

Amy Christie, executive director of Worth the Wait, a provider of abstinence-only curricula for schools in the Texas Panhandle, said the number of school districts using the organization's materials has decreased from seven to four. According to Christie, the decline is mostly because of state budget cuts, not a change in philosophy or loss of federal grants (Smith, Texas Tribune/New York Times, 9/15).