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An Act Relative to Healthy Youth
H.3754, S. 2013
Sponsored by Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representatives Jim O’Day and Paul Brodeur
When Schools Offer Sexuality Education, Let’s Get It Right
Giving Young People the Facts They Need to Make Healthy Decisions
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 healthy relationships, develop strong communication skills, and make healthy decisions.
Research shows that providing medically accurate, age-appropriate sexuality education helps young people stay healthy, which enhances their ability to learn. When it comes to relationships and sex, effective sexuality education programs teach the benefits of abstinence and delaying sexual activity while also providing vital information about effective contraception use, prevention of pregnancy and disease, and the relationship and communication skills needed to form healthy, respectful relationships and make healthy decisions. Given that thirty percent of teen girls who have dropped out of high school cited pregnancy or parenthood as a key reason, comprehensive sexuality education is directly tied to improving educational achievement.
Sponsored by Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representatives Jim O’Day and Paul Brodeur, An Act Relative to Healthy Youth ensures that a Massachusetts school electing to teach sexuality education selects an appropriate curriculum that’s medically accurate, age-appropriate, and truly comprehensive. Under such a curriculum, students will learn about abstinence, delaying sexual activity, healthy relationships and healthy behaviors free of coercion, effective contraceptive use, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Why We Need the Healthy Youth Act
While something is better than nothing in many cases, the same is not true of sexuality education. Currently, when Massachusetts district and charter schools provide their students with health education that covers sexual activity and healthy relationships, 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, currently in use as part of certain curricula common to schools across the country and in Massachusetts. There is no evidence that demonstrates abstinence-only-until-marriage education delays teen sexual activity. In fact, research shows that abstinence-only strategies are correlated with higher teen pregnancy and birth rates.
Youth in Massachusetts need accurate, age-appropriate information about how to negotiate relationships. Recognizing that, nearly 40% of high school students in Massachusetts have had sexual intercourse and nearly one in ten students reported four or more partners in their lives, it only makes sense that we should do everything we can to make sure our young people make smart, informed decisions about their health. By not using comprehensive sexuality education, we are putting our youth at a disadvantage and not equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to make healthy choices.
Education programs for young people work when they emphasize the importance of delaying sexual activity while also teaching them about proper use of condoms and other contraceptive methods. Specifically, comprehensive sexuality 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.
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.[viii] However, if parents do not want their child to receive this education, the Healthy Youth Act maintains current Massachusetts law that allows a parent or legal guardian to opt his or her child out of any sexuality based instruction.
Setting a Standard, Not a Mandate
This legislation seeks to establish parameters and provide guidance that will make it easier for school districts to ensure they are empowering their students to make healthy decisions. It is not a mandate and respects local decision-making authority about around school programming and budget priorities. The Healthy Youth Act maintains existing state law that allows parents to opt their children out of sexuality education programs, while ensuring students who do receive sexuality education receive accurate and age-appropriate information from a curriculum supported by peer-reviewed research.
Who Supports Sexuality Education?
Several other states – including CA, CO, ME, and WA – have similar laws stating that when sexuality education is offered it must be age-appropriate, medically accurate, and cover abstinence, contraception, and healthy decision making.
A long list of widely respected national organizations with relevant expertise support age-appropriate, medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education that includes information about both delaying sexual activity and effective contraception use: 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 Massachusetts Association for School-Based Health Care, the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, and the Wellesley Centers for Women.