Bill requires schools that offer sex education to provide medically-accurate and age-appropriate information
BOSTON – On January 16, Senator Cindy F. Friedman, D-Arlington, joined her Senate colleagues in passing the Healthy Youth Act. This bill would ensure that Massachusetts schools electing to provide their students with sex education use age-appropriate and medically accurate 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.
“Ensuring that our school districts provide medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education is commonsense,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman. “Particularly in the era of the #MeToo movement, it’s critical that our youth understand the meaning of consent, how to build healthy relationships, the benefits of delaying sex, how to prevent STIs and pregnancy, and LGBTQIA+ health needs. Thank you to the students from my district who came to my office to advocate for this important bill, which will ensure that all youth are well-informed and equipped with the tools they need to lead healthy lives.”
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. This legislation changes this by requiring school districts that offer sex education to follow certain guidelines to ensure students are provided with age-appropriate, medically accurate, and comprehensive information, including:
- 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; and
- age-appropriate information about gender identity and sexual orientation, including resources that offer support to LGBTQ students.
The Senate passed similar versions of the Healthy Youth Act in prior sessions and this most recent version incorporates additional feedback from experts as well as advocates. The legislation does not require schools to offer sex education and also protects parents’ right to remove their children from all or part of sex education if they chose to do so – an action protected by state law. In addition, it provides districts that teach sex education curriculum with updated guidance on how to notify parents about these programs.
Notification to parents and guardians must be in English, as well as any other commonly spoken languages by parents. Districts must also have a process for parents to review the program instruction materials prior to the start of the course, if the parents request it.
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 LGBTQIA+ youth in school.
A 2018 poll conducted by EMC Research showed overwhelming bipartisan support for sex education in Massachusetts, with 92% of likely voters agreeing that students should receive sex education in high school and 89% of likely voters agree that sex education should include comprehensive information, such as how to build healthy relationships and understand consent.
This bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration. To track the progress of the bill, visit https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/S2459.