The XX Factor

I Was an Abstinence-Only Guinea Pig

Emily , I attended public school in Texas in the ‘90s, which made me a guinea pig for Gov. George W. Bush’s abstinence-only curriculum. While my peers in more liberal corners of the country were being shown how to put condoms on bananas, I was trapped in a stuffy high-school classroom viewing pictures of what various STDs looked like when they infected someone’s eye, as the program coordinators were presumably too squeamish to show us pictures of actual genitals.

The message was that having sex equals getting pregnant and contracting an STD (probably in your eye). Better to wait until marriage. In our classrooms, condoms were never mentioned. Abstinence, viewed as the only answer, was the only thing worth discussing. Of course, this morally tinged, abstinence-only approach did not prove to be effective at curbing teen pregnancy or the spread of STDs in Texas. While Bush was governor, the state had the fourth-highest number of teen pregnancies in the country.

I think my peers and I would have been much better served, Hanna, by the system you describe . It is difficult to see comprehensive sex ed for younger kids playing well in Friendswood, the conservative Houston suburb where I grew up. So keeping an abstinence-focused program in middle school but shifting to a more well-rounded, “abstinence-plus” approach in high school might be a way to compromise and to add a much-needed dose of realism to the curriculum. Thankfully, it appears some school districts in Texas are moving in this direction, as federal funding for abstinence-only programs withers .