State representative, Melrose Democrat
Massachusetts students deserve an education that will prepare them for the future and empower them to make healthy and informed decisions. We must ensure that young adults receive comprehensive education on every subject they learn in school, and sex education is no exception. It should be age appropriate, medically accurate, inclusive, and consent focused.
Sex education programs work best when they emphasize the benefits of abstinence, while also teaching students about the importance of using contraception. These types of comprehensive approaches are proven to be more effective at delaying sexual activity among young people and reducing the number of partners and incidence of unprotected sex, while also combating the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and lowering rates of unintended pregnancies.
The Healthy Youth bill recognizes that healthy relationships are vital to a young person’s development. It includes lessons about strong relationship and communications skills that will help young adults form healthy, respectful relationships free of violence, coercion, and intimidation at every stage of their lives. From Hollywood to schools to workplaces and beyond, stories of harassment and assault dominate the headlines and our public discourse. Now more than ever, we need to help our young people learn about consent, healthy relationships, and respect.
Parents and teachers know what’s best for their own communities. The bill does not mandate that districts offer a sexual health curriculum, leaving that decision to local school committees. The bill would improve a parent’s right to review course materials and decide whether their children participate in sex education, ensuring parents remain firmly in control of their child’s education. This bill simply states that a school district that chooses to provide sex education must select an evidence-based curriculum that meets state standards, one that is proven to help all young people lead healthier lives.
I recently attended an awards ceremony where an incoming superintendent talked about how hard it is to be a young person today. Peer pressure, academic expectations, and conflicting and inaccurate information on the Internet and in social media complicate our students’ ability to navigate the challenges of adolescence. The Healthy Youth bill will empower them to make smart, informed decisions about protecting their health and bodies and building healthy, safe, respectful relationships. These are lessons that will last a lifetime.
Peabody resident; Executive Director of Learn the Essentials, an outreach program of Learn Your Options Medical Centers geared toward youth and young adults
Comprehensive sex education doesn’t work. The US Department of Health & Human Services said last year that it had evaluated 37 pregnancy prevention programs that focus on comprehensive sex education. It found 73 percent of those programs had no or negative impact on teen behavior, with “some teens more likely to begin having sex, to engage in unprotected sex, or to become pregnant. Very few positive results were sustained over time.” We can do better.
Instead of adopting legislation to promote comprehensive sex education, the state should support Sexual Risk Avoidance education. SRA stresses character building for healthy relationships and focuses on normalizing sexual delay for youth. SRA education helps teens understand that while sex can be a natural and wonderful aspect of being a human being, sex as a teen is a risky behavior that can have life-altering consequences.
While sexually transmitted diseases affect individuals of all ages, they take a particularly heavy toll on young people. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that youth between the ages of 15 and 24 make up just one quarter of the sexually active population, but account for half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections that occur in the United States every year. Our youth deserve the best health message, one that encourages them to avoid all high-risk behaviors for their future health, emotional and physical.
Comprehensive sex education normalizes sex and other risky behaviors. For example, in a lesson called “Regretful Rihanna,” a teen describes being drunk and high and then having sex. However, in a Teens Speak Out Survey conducted for Ascend — an organization promoting Sexual Risk Avoidance education — 38 percent of teens who receive comprehensive sex education stated that they often feel pressure to have sex because it is expected of them, more pressure from those expectations, in fact, than the pressure they feel from their dating partners.
In spite of what some of our state legislators in Massachusetts believe, parents want to instill moral and behavioral standards in their children. Almost three-fourths of parents are opposed to premarital sex, both in general and for their own adolescents, according to federal survey data.
Shouldn’t we listen to parents who love and know their children best?