The XX Factor

One in 15 Students at a West Texas High School Has Chlamydia

West Texas: Where you can drive really fast, get the clap. Above, the I-10 in 2006. 

Photo by Rick Scibelli/Getty Images

When you’re on the high school speech-and-debate team in rural West Texas, you spend a lot of time on weekends napping in school buses in front of other small-town high schools. For me, one of those was Crane High School, where I wiled away many hours playing card games while waiting for my round. From San Antonio Express-News:

Officials with the Crane Independent School District are meeting to discuss their sex education program after nearly two dozen cases of Chlamydia were reported among the high school student body.

KOSA-TV reported the Crane Independent School District sent a letter to parents last week regarding 20 cases of chlamydia among the Crane High School student population, which totals about 300 students.

News West 9 spoke with some parents in the area who expressed shock and horror at the situation. “I mean I have a kid, honestly I don’t want my kid growing up in an area where nasty stuff like that happens,” Edward Martinez told the station.

People often express shock when things like this happen, but having grown up in the area, this is literally the least surprising thing ever to me. The combination of a repressive culture and a small population where everyone is up in everyone else’s business all the time makes it hard for people— especially teenagers—to take necessary precautions against disease transmission: getting tested, communicating openly with partners, obtaining condoms. 

The area’s repressive attitudes toward sex are illustrated in the school’s sex education program, which takes up three days in the fall semester and, of course, is focused on abstinence. Raw Story reports that in 2012, the School Health Advisory Committee recommended a program titled Worth the Wait for that three-day course; the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States pointed out that Worth the Wait discourages condom use by suggesting they’re just going to fail you anyway. 

The school district’s superintendent, Jim T. Rumage, stands by his chlamydia-friendly strategy of telling kids to wait until marriage. “If kids are not having any sexual activity, they can’t get this disease,” he told the Express-News in a phone interview. That is true! Also true: If you never eat any food, you probably won’t get cavities, and so there’s no point in manufacturing toothbrushes.

Texas is the eighth-worst state in the country for STI transmission rates. West Texas, in particular, clings to the belief that we can finger-wag away our entire species’ storied history of enjoying sex. Two nearby counties, Midland and Ector, were Nos. 19 and 21 in 2013 among the most sexually infectious counties in the state. (The number of young men flowing in to work the oil fields—and to drink and party and screw around after work—has not helped.) Lubbock, Texas, which is so Bible Belt they only just recently started allowing the sale of alcohol, ranked No. 11. But maybe the Crane High School story, which is winning headlines like the Daily Caller’s (“This Texas High School Is CRAWLING WITH VENEREAL DISEASE”) might finally embarrass locals enough to consider changing their ways. 

While the future of sex ed in Crane is up in the air, there is one thing I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt: The rumor mill at this high school is churning about who infected who, and where, and when.