Last week marked another first for me when I testified at the Massachusetts State House to relay my support for the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund’s legislative priority, the Healthy Youth Act, to the Joint Committee on Education. This commonsense bill would help ensure that when schools decide to teach sex education, they use a curriculum that’s comprehensive, medically accurate and inclusive.
As the president of the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts (PPAF), a family medicine physician, and a mother of two young men – I testified because I know policies like the Healthy Youth Act help keep students healthy and combat issues like sexual violence at its roots.
While I certainly knew how important this bill was before the hearing, listening to the stories shared by parents, young people, lawmakers, and advocates reinforced my steadfast belief that the State House must pass the Heathy Youth Act this legislative session.
Here’s Why We Need the Healthy Youth Act:
Advocates made a strong case for the bill – addressing a great number of reasons the State House should safeguard young people’s health and safety by passing the bill.
Here are just a couple of those reasons:
Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) occur every year in this country, with half of those diagnoses among young people aged 15–24.
In Massachusetts, gonorrhea rates increased 16% from 2013 to 2014 and the total number of reported chlamydia cases increased approximately 66.8% from 2005 to 2014. This is alarming!
Here’s the bottom line: Equipping young people with the tools they need to delay sex and prevent STIs if and when they do become sexually active means we must ensure their access to accurate information.
“By supporting the Healthy Youth Act, you are sending teens the message that our sexual health matters and should be taken seriously. You are giving us the tools we need to keep ourselves safe, instead of leaving us with stigma, shame, confusion, and midnight Google searches trying to fill in the gaps of what our schools have failed to teach us.”– Isabella S., Brookline High School Student who testified at the hearing.
Addressing Sexual Assault and Teen Dating Violence
The Healthy Youth Act's hearing was timely as April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In order to prevent sexual violence, young people need access to quality sex education that teaches consent and helps them understand what healthy relationships look like. And they need this education before college and before they become sexually active. This bill would do just that, ensuring any curriculum addresses these topics.
Let’s be clear: consent education is sexual violence prevention – and it is essential Massachusetts schools do more to ensure young people receive this information.
Protecting LGBTQ Youth
According to the Massachusetts 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Study, LGBTQ youth in the state continue to face significantly higher rates of being bullied, considering suicide or attempting suicide, and experiencing sexual violence compared to their heterosexual-cisgender counterparts.
LGBTQ youth in Massachusetts deserve access to safe and affirming learning spaces. Comprehensive sex ed and creating a space to educate young people about gender identity and sexual orientation plays an important role in doing just that. This bill would help ensure that LGBTQ youth, and their classmates, are receiving inclusive information that reflects and validates their identities.
Next steps for the bill:
Under the current national administration, it’s more important than ever that we pass proactive policies that protect our communities and the health of our young people. That’s why we’re going to keep advocating for comprehensive sex education locally – and we’re not going to stop until the Massachusetts State House passes the Healthy Youth Act and Governor Baker signs it into law. This hearing was the first step of many to getting the bill passed – but I know we have supporters like you who will be advocating with us every step of the way.
Take action for the Healthy Youth Act:
Here are a couple of ways you can take action today in support of the bill: