An Act Relative to Healthy Youth
S 234, H 2053
Sponsored by Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representatives Jim O’Day and Paul Brodeur
Why We Need the Healthy Youth Act
There is nothing more important than the health and well-being of our youth. We must ensure young people across the state have accurate and age-appropriate information to help them form respectful relationships, develop strong communication skills, and make healthy, informed decisions.
An Act Relative to Healthy Youth ensures that a Massachusetts school electing to teach sex education uses a curriculum that’s medically accurate, age-appropriate, and truly comprehensive. A comprehensive sex education curriculum teaches students about the benefits of abstinence and delaying sex, building healthy relationships, consent, gender identity and sexual orientation, effective contraceptive use, and the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Education programs for young people are effective only when they emphasize the importance of abstinence and delaying sexual activity while also teaching them about safety and the proper use of condoms and other contraceptive methods. Specifically, comprehensive sex education programs have been proven to: (1) delay the initiation of sex; (2) reduce the frequency of sex, the number of partners, and the incidence of unprotected sex; and (3) increase the use of condoms and contraception. Long-term impacts in some programs have also included lower STI and/or pregnancy rates. In fact, research shows that providing medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education helps young people stay healthy, which enhances their ability to learn. Such curricula also teaches the relationship and communication skills needed to form healthy, respectful relationships and make healthy decisions. Additionally, LGBTQ-inclusive curricula are associated with higher reported levels of safety and lower reported levels of bullying in school.
While something is better than nothing in many cases, the same is not true of sex education. There is no evidence that demonstrates abstinence-only education delays teen sexual activity. In fact, research shows that abstinence-only strategies are correlated with higher teen pregnancy and birth rates. Currently, when Massachusetts public schools provide their students with health education that covers sexual activity, there is no guarantee that the information provided is age-appropriate or medically accurate. Indeed, there is a host of unproven, medically inaccurate information, including abstinence-only education, being taught in schools across Massachusetts.
In Massachusetts and across the country today, we face a serious public health crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year in this country, with half of those diagnoses among young people aged 15–24. These infections account for almost $16 billion in health care costs and each of these infections is a potential threat to an individual’s immediate and long-term health and well-being. In addition to increasing a person’s risk for acquiring and transmitting HIV, STIs can lead to chronic pain and severe reproductive health complications. In Massachusetts, gonorrhea rates increased 16% from 2013 to 2014 and the total number of reported chlamydia cases increased approximately 66.8% 2005 to 2014. By promoting comprehensive sex education, we can help our young people protect their health and stop this public health crisis in its tracks.
The Role and Rights of Parents
Education extends beyond the classroom and into the home. Parents and caregivers are an important source of information about sexuality and relationships, but many are nervous about talking with their teens about these topics. Parents and schools working in partnership is the best strategy for successfully educating and empowering young people to make healthy decisions.
The majority of parents want such a partnership with their children’s schools, as illustrated by the fact that 93% of parents of middle school students and 91% of parents of high school students believe it is very or somewhat important to have sexuality education as part of the school curriculum. The Healthy Youth Act maintains existing state law that allows parents to remove their children from sex education programs, while ensuring students who do receive sex education receive accurate and age-appropriate information from a curriculum supported by peer-reviewed research.
Meeting Basic Standards
This legislation seeks to establish parameters and provide guidance that will make it easier for school districts to empower their students to make healthy decisions. This legislation seeks an appropriate balance between respecting local decision-making authority and addressing a statewide public health problem. To keep communities accountable, the Healthy Youth Act requires comprehensive sex education in schools in cities or towns where the STI rates for adolescents exceed the state average. In some Massachusetts communities, we are failing to give young people the information they need to stay safe and healthy – and that results in serious, lifelong repercussions for our youth.
Who Supports Comprehensive Sex Education?
- Massachusetts voters: A 2016 poll conducted by EMC Research showed overwhelming bi-partisan support for sex education in Massachusetts, with 90% of registered voters agreeing that students should receive sex education in high school and 86% agreeing that sex education should include information about how students can stay healthy should they choose to become sexually active.
- Twenty-seven states, including CA, CO, ME, and WA and the District of Columbia, which have similar laws requiring sex education to be age-appropriate, medically accurate, and to cover abstinence, contraception, and healthy decision making.
- A long list of widely respected national organizations with relevant expertise: The Massachusetts Association of School Committees, The American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association, the Institute of Medicine, the Society of Adolescent Medicine, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association.
In Massachusetts, the Healthy Youth Act is supported by a diverse coalition of educators, researchers, and advocates, including Jane Doe Inc., the, the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, and GLAD.