Bill would make sex education medically accurate and inclusive in Massachusetts
State Senator Sal DiDomenico has reintroduced An Act relative to healthy youth (S.268) – also known as the Healthy Youth Act – which has been proposed in the legislature for over a decade. This bill would ensure that Massachusetts public schools electing to teach sex education curriculum use age-appropriate, medically accurate and research-based information that covers a comprehensive range of topics. The legislation also calls for sex education to be inclusive and appropriate for students regardless of gender, race, disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity.
A 2018 poll conducted by EMC Research showed overwhelming bipartisan support for sex education in Massachusetts, with 91% of likely voters agreeing that students should receive sex education in high school, and 75% of likely voters agreeing that sex education should include comprehensive information, such as how to build healthy relationships and understand consent.
“This legislation will finally make it clear that sex education in Massachusetts must be inclusive of all students and emphasize the importance and necessity of consent in relationships,” said Senator DiDomenico, who is Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate and Vice Chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education. He continued, “The Healthy Youth Act was first filed 12 years ago and has passed the Senate several times. We must finally get this commonsense health policy over the finish line to ensure our children have the information they need to protect their health, form respectful relationships, and build the bright futures they deserve.”
“Whether we’re from Boston or the Berkshires, a strong majority of people in Massachusetts –including most parents – want young people to receive sex and relationship education at school,” said Jamie Klufts, who is co-chair of the Healthy Youth Act Coalition. “The Healthy Youth Act will update our state’s woefully outdated health education guidelines to ensure that the sex and relationship education taught in our schools is accurate, high-quality, and inclusive. This type of education protects young people against bullying and abuse, helps them develop healthy relationship skills, improves their academic performance, and is something every student in our state deserves. We owe it to them to finally pass the Healthy Youth Act.”
Currently, public schools in the Commonwealth that choose to teach sex education are not required to use or adhere to a specific sex education curriculum. While some schools provide comprehensive and effective sex education, others teach outdated and abstinence-focused programs, including curricula that ignore LGBTQIA+ health and critical lessons on consent. This has led to a patchwork of sexual education programs across the state.
DiDomenico’s bill aims to change this by requiring school districts that offer sex education to follow certain guidelines when selecting a curriculum. This is vital to ensuring that students throughout the state are provided with age-appropriate, medically accurate and comprehensive information, including topics on:
- the benefits of delaying sex
- human anatomy, reproduction and sexual development
- effective contraceptive use
- prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- relationship and communication skills to form healthy relationships
- coverage of affirmative, conscious and voluntary consent
- age-appropriate information about gender identity and sexual orientation, including resources that offer support to LGBTQ students
The bill does not require public schools to teach sex education but sets curriculum guidelines for those that do. This legislation also protects and enhances parents’ right to remove their children from all or part of the sex education program if they choose to do so – an action already protected by state law. Additionally, this bill updates parent-notification guidelines for districts that choose to teach sex education curriculum and requires schools to send notice to parents in English and in other commonly spoken languages in the district. Notice would alert parents that their child is enrolled in a sex education course and would inform them of their right to review the curriculum or opt their child out of some or all of the lessons.
Sex education programs have repeatedly been shown to work best when they emphasize the value of delaying sex while also teaching students about the importance of protecting themselves from unintended consequences. As demonstrated by numerous studies, comprehensive sex education programs have been proven to delay the initiation of sex, increase use of contraception, lower the rates of STIs and unintended pregnancy among teens and reduce reported levels of bullying towards LGBTQ youth in school.