Lawmakers’ nod to media literacy is crucial
Thank you for the article “Legislature still hesitant to talk sex ed” (Page A1, May 9) by Stephanie Ebbert. It’s good to see a comprehensive article on this topic. What we wish you had included about the “Healthy Youth Act” is that, for the first time, the Senate bill notes the importance of teaching students to understand the media’s influence on young people’s ideas about sex and sexual self-image.
Adolescents frequently cite mass media as a primary source of information about sex. Unfortunately, accurate, healthy, and responsible messages about sex are not typical in the entertainment media. Studies of music videos show pervasive sexual objectification and degrading sexuality, especially regarding girls and women. Other studies find regular exposure to certain sexual content on TV, glamorizing early sexual relationships and teen motherhood, was found to predict earlier sexual activity and higher rates of teen pregnancy . And with a large percentage of teen boys, and many teen girls, now being exposed to online pornography, researchers are just beginning to see the effect that images of highly unrealistic sex and bodies, and often violent, degrading sex, are having on young people.
The good news is that teaching students the critical thinking skills of media literacy has been shown to help them make smarter, more careful decisions about sex and relationships. If these skills are taught in sex education in our state, Massachusetts will be a model for truly contemporary, comprehensive, and more effective sex education.
LGBTQ youth are counting on Beacon Hill to step up for them
Of all the people calling for more inclusive sex education, LGBTQ youth, in particular, are counting on Beacon Hill to step up for them. LGBTQ youth are more likely than their peers to feel unsafe in school, less likely to talk with their parents about important issues, and disproportionately affected by sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Our current approach to sex education clearly isn’t working for them.
The Healthy Youth Act would empower LGBTQ youth by affirmatively recognizing who they are and providing information specific to their health needs. This worthy goal isn’t controversial except to the bill’s opponent: the Massachusetts Family Institute.
The Massachusetts Family Institute is dead-set on rolling back our rights and freedoms. Besides opposing sex education, their top priorities are opposing marriage equality, championing so-called gay conversion therapy, and repealing equal protections for transgender individuals.
While the institute’s opposition to building a more inclusive world for LGBTQ youth isn’t surprising, I can’t imagine this small group of extremists could persuade my former House colleagues to forgo an opportunity to support LGBTQ youth. I look forward to their vote advancing sex education and rejecting hateful agendas.
The writer is a former state representative.
This measure would point schools in the right direction
Students need it; parents want it; it works. There is no excuse for our lawmakers to delay supporting quality sexual health education. As your article stated, the majority of Massachusetts students engage in sexual activity before graduation. National surveys reveal that 80 to 85 percent of parents want this taught in school, and research has shown that the more students know about sexuality, the longer they delay engaging in it.
For nine years I was the coordinator of HIV education for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. While it was clear that districts with quality curriculums and trained teachers could have a meaningful impact on the lives of their students, many schools were unaware of the characteristics of effective programs. This legislation would point them in the right direction and still allow schools to skip the topic or parents to opt their children out.
I currently consult to schools in California, where, in 2015, similar standards were legislated. In the following two years, Oakland, where I write curriculums and train teachers, experienced a significant decrease in sexual activity among middle and high school students.
Let’s catch up.
School-based sex ed gives both parents and teens tools for talking
One way sex education programs support teen health is by providing parents and teens with the tools to have these often challenging and sensitive conversations. Parental guidance and school-based sex education are complements, not in competition with one another. Our research found that boys who had conversations with family about sex as part of a school-based sex education program were more likely to delay sex in eighth grade than boys who did not have those conversations. Such comprehensive sex education is critical. The fact that 41 percent of Massachusetts’ 12th-graders did not use condoms the last time they had sex presents a dire risk not only to the teens’ immediate health but to their long-term well-being. Teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases can lead to long-term academic, social, and economic consequences.
The writer is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley