Faith, Hope, and Chastity

Is there any good way to teach your kids about sex?
Illustration by Carl DeTorres

Monica is seventeen years old. When I met her in January, she was seven months pregnant with her second child. Her fifteen-month-old girl, Anevaeh, wandered through the room with a purple pacifier in her mouth. Monica should have been preparing to graduate from high school. Instead, she was finishing tenth grade. She and her nineteen-year-old boyfriend, Thomas, swore that they usually used condoms, which they acquired free from their local Planned Parenthood clinic. But twice, when they were caught in the heat of the moment without a supply, they took their chances. Both times Monica got pregnant.

Monica had no illusions about how it had happened. “I got sex ed in school,” she said, sitting on a queen-size bed in the couple’s cramped apartment, located on the second story of her parents’ house, in Austin. “Maybe in fifth or sixth grade.” She received additional instruction in middle school as part of her probation for possession of marijuana. But certain details were still unclear; for instance, she had the mistaken notion that condoms would not help protect her from HIV.

I learned what gonorrhea and chlamydia look like,” she told me. “The teachers didn’t say if there were cures. I think there were some STDs they wouldn’t talk about.” She didn’t recall any official discussions about pregnancy in her school. Most of what she knew she learned from her teenage girlfriends, the majority of whom were already mothers.

Monica’s situation is more common in Texas than in any other state. Texas ranks number

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