In Massachusetts, we pride ourselves on being a leader in education, and we’ve shown LGBTQ+ youth that they belong here by leading on same-sex marriage, protections for trans people, and banning conversion therapy. And yet, sex and relationship education in the Commonwealth is not required to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ identities — or even medically accurate.
A strong majority of people in Massachusetts, including most parents, want young people to receive sex and relationship education at school. Yet, the last time the Commonwealth’s health education guidelines were updated was in 1999! Our young people deserve better.
That’s why Massachusetts needs to pass An Act Relative to Healthy Youth (S.268/H.544) aka the Healthy Youth Act (HYA), which is one of the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts’ legislative priorities for the 2023-24 session. The HYA seeks to ensure that all sex and relationship education curricula taught in MA public schools are medically accurate, age appropriate, LGBTQ+ inclusive, include tools to build healthy relationships, and teach the benefits of delaying sex as well as how to prevent STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and pregnancy. It also retains parents/guardians’ rights to review the curriculum and opt their children out of instruction if they feel it is necessary.
Building healthy, safe communities begins with our youth.
More than 30 years of research shows that sex and relationship education works. It delays the initiation of sex, reduces pregnancies and STIs, helps young people develop healthy relationships, prevents dating violence and sexual abuse, and improves academic outcomes.
Over the past decade in the US, the percentage of female students who were forced to have sex increased from 12% to 14%, and those who experienced sexual violence increased from 15% to 18%. And here in Massachusetts, 10% of high school students have experienced sexual assault and 7% have experienced physical dating violence. Sex and relationship education that does not address sexual harassment and assault prevents survivors from getting help and perpetrators from being held accountable. Young people need to know how to talk about sex before they start having sex, so that they are prepared to handle difficult situations.
LGBTQ+ youth deserve better.
LGBTQ+ youth are hit especially hard by ineffective and stigmatizing sex education. 81% of LGBTQ+ youth in MA don't learn about LGBTQ+ topics in sex ed, an experience that leaves them without essential tools needed to stay healthy, while also isolating and stigmatizing them. This group is also disproportionately affected by STIs, sexual assault, and bullying. By passing the Healthy Youth Act, we can make sure young people are equipped with nonjudgmental, LGBTQ+-inclusive guidance to help them protect themselves, form healthy relationships, and support their overall health and wellbeing.
Massachusetts is lagging behind other states.
17 states require sex education to be medically accurate and 26 states require instruction to be age appropriate. Massachusetts currently requires neither. The Healthy Youth Act would change that — we need to pass it now!