Ayala: Texas needs a State Board of Education that isn’t repressed about reality

It’s colorful what has passed for sex education in Texas.

My classroom experience involving anything resembling sex education left me two memories. One involved an upper lip, the other a watermelon.

It was 1970 and I was in my seventh-grade class. Girls had been separated from the boys, and the physical education teacher at Truman Junior High in the Edgewood Independent School District had the task of terrorizing us.

The class must have covered more than what I remember, but this is what remains: The teacher spoke of what it was like to have a baby. She had had one, so she spoke from experience. She compared having sex, and thus getting pregnant and thus having a baby, to taking one’s upper lip and pulling it over one’s head, all the way back to the nape of one’s neck.

She offered another vivid description that compared giving birth to passing a watermelon.

Today, the preferred curriculum in the Lone Star State is to teach abstinence, so perhaps there’s been some improvement.

Candy and flowers have replaced torture and large fruit. A story in our paper last year featured several female college students recalling their abstinence classes.

One story involved two Butterfinger candy bars. The teacher took a bite out of one, then asked the students which they’d prefer. No one, of course, opted for the pre-bitten bar.

That student walked away with several lessons. First, that sex is dirty and gross; and, second, if you have sex now, no one will want you in the future.

Skittles and flowers have also been used to promote abstinence. In the case of the latter, a teacher crumples a flower, which she explains represents their bodies before and after sex.

One student described the class as “borderline traumatic.” Like my jittery upper lip every time I remember that P.E. teacher.

On Friday, the Texas Board of Education voted to revise its sex education standards to include the teaching of birth control in addition to abstinence for middle school students.

That’s a long way from comprehensive sex education, but let’s take a moment to recognize that the state board voted to update the more than 20-year-old curriculum standards involving sex education to include the mention of condoms and other birth control as a means to prevent pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and sexually transmitted infections.

State law still doesn’t mandate sex education in health classes, and those that do will continue to include abstinence, a policy that has given Texas one of the nation’s highest rates of teen pregnancy.

Texas will remain Texas — repressed and gripping to control pious lessons that have very little effect on teen behavior and deliver life-changing outcomes that hurt young Texans.

The Republican-controlled body was afraid of “comprehensive” sex education, which public health experts promoted. It was called “radical” by opponents.

The board also failed to include sexual orientation or gender identity in the revised standards, even though students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning testified and asked for inclusion. They also talked about being bullied and harassed and feeling unsafe in Texas schools.

Studies vary on what percentage of the population is LGBTQ, but the Movement Advancement Project’s Texas’ Equality Profile estimates more than 1 million Texans ages 13 and up identify as such.

Marisa Perez-Diaz, a Democrat from Converse who sits on the board, pushed to add the concept of “consent” to the revised standards for middle-schoolers.

It’s a common word, used in law, she said. The term could help teach boundaries to students in age-appropriate context.

It also has been used by the #MeToo social movement, which advocates the reporting of sexual harassment and sexual violence, however long ago.

The state’s sex ed revisions take effect in 2022.

The board couldn’t comprehensively address the teaching of sexual and reproductive health to better arm young Texans against unwanted pregnancies and disease. The irony is some public officials cling to a belief that parents can best provide that information at home. Maybe.

But some parents may be no better at it.

That means young people will continue to turn to each other, to the internet and pornography, some of which may be part of their home cable subscriptions.

Conservatives gave comprehensive sex education a #NoRadicalSexEd hashtag. That’s where we are. It will take another kind of State Board of Education to move us forward beyond repression to reality.

Elaine Ayala is a columnist covering San Antonio and Bexar County. To read more from Elaine, become a subscriber. [email protected] | Twitter: @ElaineAyala

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