Every young person in Massachusetts deserves to know how to stay healthy and safe. Comprehensive sex education empowers youth by teaching them communication skills, consent, respect, and autonomy, while also relaying critically important information about pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
In Jamaica Plain we are lucky to have strong and thoughtful leaders like state Rep. Liz Malia, a co-sponsor of An Act Relative to Healthy Youth, or the “Healthy Youth Act.” This legislation would make comprehensive sex education that is medically accurate, age-appropriate, and LGBTQ-inclusive, a reality for all public school students in Massachusetts.
As a public health professional, health educator, and young person, I know how important it is to empower students and give them tools to make healthy decisions. I did not learn about safer sex practices at home or at school; I depended on information passed down to me by friends and their siblings. This lack of information left me vulnerable, unsafe and at-risk.
Now, as a person working with college students and young adults, I see the true impact of this lack of information and do what I can to share safer sex practices, information about healthy relationships, and enhance communication skills. But, many young adults are already sexually active and could have benefited from this information years ago as a preventative measure.
Conversations about sex and sexuality are often enshrouded in shame and stigma, preventing parents from leading these necessary discussions. Schools are a safe, neutral ground to disseminate evidence-based and inclusive sex education.
Notably, rates of STIs have been on the rise for the past decade and disproportionately affect young people. Young people represent a quarter of all people having sex, but, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, more than two-thirds of chlamydia cases and nearly half of gonorrhea cases occurred among young people (ages 15 to 24) in Massachusetts in 2015. This is a disturbing public health trend that we must stop in its tracks.
When we give youth the tools and resources they desperately need, we empower them to curb STI transmissions, prevent sexual assaults, and lead healthy, safe, and productive lives. It is imperative that the Massachusetts Legislature pass the Healthy Youth Act, especially as the Trump administration continues to pull funding from evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programming and push forward an abstinence-only agenda that has been proven to be ineffective time and again.
Jamie Klufts is a resident of Jamaica Plain