In Massachusetts, we have an opportunity to ensure our young people have the tools to make healthy, informed decisions by passing the Healthy Youth Act.
The Healthy Youth Act would ensure comprehensive curricula are taught in public schools that choose to offer sex education, helping young people learn the benefits of delaying sex, as well as how to prevent STIs and pregnancy when they become sexually active. But comprehensive sex education is about more than just sex – it helps creates a culture of consent, recognizes and prioritizes LGBTQ youth health needs, and gives young people the tools to build healthy relationships. And unlike its alternatives, comprehensive sex education curricula are proven to help young people lead healthy lives.
We can combat sexual assault at its roots by teaching young people how to build healthy, respectful relationships. In 2015, 9 percent of Massachusetts teens reported experiencing non-consensual sexual contact. This trend only continues into college, where 784 “forcible sex offenses” occurred in 60 New England colleges that same year. Study after study reveals that many do not understand what sexual harassment and assault are, preventing 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 they are prepared to handle difficult situations once they are in college and throughout their lives.
The consequences of unchecked curricula are not limited to sexual assault. Young people face serious long-term health repercussions when they are not taught the full range of sex education. Although they represent only a quarter of people having sex, more than two-thirds of chlamydia cases and almost half of gonorrhea cases occurred among young people ages 15 to 24 in Massachusetts in 2015. Many young people are not receiving the tools they need to prevent STIs—just 52 percent of Massachusetts teens were taught how to use condoms in school that same year.
LGBTQ youth are hit especially hard by bad sex education. LGBTQ youth are disproportionately affected by STIs, as well as sexual assault and bullying. School-sanctioned discrimination against LGBTQ people is unethical and damaging. We need to make sure all of our young people are equipped with nonjudgmental, LGBTQ-inclusive guidance to help them protect themselves, form healthy relationships and build safer communities that allow every person to thrive.
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Massachusetts voters agree: 92% of voters believe students should receive sex education in high school. 89% believe sex education should cover how students can stay healthy if they become sexually active.