State Profiles

Massachusetts’ Sex Education Snapshot

Advocates in Massachusetts have worked tirelessly to advance the Healthy Youth Act. First introduced in 2011, the Healthy Youth Act would ensure youth receive research-based, medically accurate, and culturally competent sex education in districts that require sex education. Broad public support for the bill is often met with opposition from the Massachusetts Family Institute. While the Healthy Youth Act has successfully passed the Senate in the past two legislative sessions, it has routinely been blocked from being introduced in the House. In 2019, Representative Paul Brodeur and Representative James J. O’Day introduced House Bill 410 in another unsuccessful attempt to pass the Healthy Youth Act. Additional sustained efforts to advance sex education have been implemented in varying manners. Funding through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Department of Public Health assist districts in selecting and accessing training on high quality sex education in partnership with organizations such as ANSWER, ETR, Planned Parenthood League of MA, and Advocates for Youth.

Since Massachusetts schools are not required to provide sex education to students, school districts are left to decide what type of sex education–if any at all–they provide to youth. Mandating local control over sex education presents unique challenges that have resulted in a glaring disparity regarding the quality of sex education that students receive. Many districts, including Boston Public Schools, use the Rights, Respect, Responsibility (3R’s) curriculum, but over 70 percent of districts use “abstinence-plus” instructional materials. Advocates are working to provide sex education curriculum that is not delivered in a gender-segregated manner, which is often alienating to transgender, nonbinary, and/or gender nonconforming young people. Additional efforts by the DESE are being made to update the Health Curriculum Framework to ensure that discussion of consent is gender inclusive and trauma informed. Addressing these barriers in sex education curriculum will ensure that all youth receive affirming instruction.

Right now, advocates can take action to ensure young people in their community have access to quality sex education. After contacting their local school board, advocates can determine what topics are missing from sex education instruction, such as instruction on consent, sexual orientation and gender identity, and contraceptives. Local initiatives to address sex education are present across the state, and advocates can use initiatives such as the Holyoke Adolescent Sexual Health and Pregnancy Prevention Task Force Accountability Committee to guide efforts to improve their community’s sex education. In addition to local efforts to improve sex education curriculum, advocates must continue to contact their representatives and urge them to support the Healthy Youth Act during the 2020 legislative session and take part in local action to raise awareness concerning this critical opportunity to advance sex education in Massachusetts. Advocates are encouraged to use the SIECUS Community Action Toolkit to guide local efforts to advance sex education.

State Sex Education Policies and Requirements at a Glance

  • Massachusetts schools are not required to teach sex education.
  • Curriculum must explain the benefits of abstinence.
  • If sex education is offered, curriculum is not required to include instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • If sex education is offered, curriculum is not required to include instruction on consent.
  • Parents and guardians can exempt their children from any portion of sex education instruction through written notification to the school principal. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.

State House Highlights

This section highlights sex education bills that were introduced during the 2020 state legislative session as well as bills that have been introduced thus far in 2021. These proposed bills ​provide a brief overview of both recent and current legislative action taken to advance or restrict sex education. For a more comprehensive look at relevant legislation concerning sex education and related topics such as reproductive health care, LGBTQ rights, and HIV/AIDS, continue reading on to the “State Legislative Activity” section of Massachusetts’s profile.

2021 Legislative Session 

House Docket 2240 (pending): Aims to require districts to obtain parental consent prior to providing students referral to, the contact information of, or other informational materials of an individual or organization if the materials involve information or counseling about health, psychological problems, reproduction, abortion, sexual education, sexual orientation, gender identity, bullying, or similar issues. No student, without prior written consent of a parent or guardian, shall participate in a survey or evaluation concerning personal issues included sexual behavior or attitudes, birth control or abortion, or additional health behaviors.

House Docket 2677 (pending): Aims to require schools to provide parental notification prior to providing sex education or instruction on sexual orientation.

House Docket 3454 (pending): Aims to require school districts that provide sex education to teach comprehensive sex education. An identical, companion bill was introduced in the Senate.

House Docket 934 (pending): Aims to require schools to implement age appropriate instruction on consent in grades K-12.

Senate Docket 2231 (pending): Aims to require sex education to include instruction on child exploitation awareness education.

2020 Legislative Session ​
House Bill 410 (failed): Sought to require schools that teach sex education to utilize research-informed curriculum that offers medically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education.

House Bill 484 (failed): Sought to require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, with the Department of Public Health, to assist districts and charter schools in developing and implementing a consent program that is evidence-based and age-appropriate.

House Bill 503 (failed): Sought to require every school that teaches sex education to establish a policy ensuring parental or guardian notification. If successful, sex education can only be offered as a non-mandatory elective in which parents and guardians provide written consent for their children to participate in the instruction.

Senate Bill 2459 (failed): Sought to require schools that teach sex education to establish a policy ensuring parents and guardians receive notification of the curriculum and the right of the parent or guardian to remove their children from the instruction.

Senate Bill 2475 (failed): Sought to require school districts that offer sex education to provide comprehensive sex education.

More on sex ed in Massachusetts…


State Law

Massachusetts does not require sex education but instead allows local school boards to make such decisions. If a community decides to implement sex education, General Law of Massachusetts, Chapter 71 §§38O requires that standards be developed with the guidance of community stakeholders, including parents and at least one physician. In 1990, the Massachusetts Board of Education approved a policy that:

[U]rges local school districts to create programs which make instruction about [acquired immunodeficiency syndrome] (AIDS)/[human immunodeficiency virus] (HIV) available to every Massachusetts student at every grade level. These programs should be developed in a manner which respects local control over education and involves parents and representatives of the community. The Board believes that AIDS/HIV prevention education is most effective when integrated into a comprehensive health education and human services program.

Every district implementing or maintaining curriculum which primarily involves human sexual education or human sexuality issues is required to adopt a policy ensuring parental/guardian notification.  This policy must afford parents or guardians the flexibility to exempt their children from any portion of said curriculum through written notification to the school principal.

State Standards

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Framework, currently set to be updated in early 2020, suggests that curricula include information about “abstaining from and postponing sexual intercourse,” and approaches reproduction and sexuality “in an appropriate and factual fashion”.  In addition, it states that human sexuality instruction should discuss HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, family violence, sound health practices, and “define sexual orientation using the correct terminology (such as heterosexual and gay and lesbian).”

State Legislative Activity

State legislative activity related to sex education does not take place in isolation from the broader embroiled political and policy climate. Attacks on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) individuals, and efforts to limit access to abortion care and other reproductive health care services  prevent students from receiving comprehensive sex education and accessing sexual and reproductive health care services. Below are highlights of current legislative activity related to these topics. Massachusetts’ 2021-2022 session convened on January 6, 2021

TitleDescriptionStatusLegislative Topic
House Bill 615Requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to assist districts and charter schools in developing and implementing an age appropriate, evidence based consent program in grades K-12. Accompanied a new draft, see S2495 (2021)Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/b91fcd660252275ebae51f8ca7d18d8b593dc8a4ff1256ddbcf06944c281be9afb97a0565d929a20767eac5554b1c204
House Bill 567Requires the establishment of standards for health education; which must be age appropriate, medically accurate, and provide for instruction on reproduction and sexuality among other health topics.Referred to the Joint Committee on Education (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/ed12d9ff57e6b40c7eb30b58f7556ea60a89ebe40b9608631d5decf0430df609301a064ccd5689eb0638a97fe2466f2b
House Bill 688Requires media literacy skills education in all health and core curricular content for grades K-12. Referred to the Joint Committee on Education (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/0c47b82937729caf3da75220336add5b654d54a3decddcde05ed4047aaef3632000a1b622c5d4995d29b31b63005da7b
House Bill 618Requires academic standards to include instruction on the histories, roles, and contributions of LGBTQ people in the history of the United States and in Massachusetts Referred to the Joint Committee on Education(2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/65c87f09013aff91ce2230448d81c4c672cf16f1c194fe1303b8ab0669bd7e50bed38450186efadcbf88c228bda8909a
House Bill 633Requires schools to provide parental notification prior to providing sex education or instruction on sexual orientation. Referred to the Joint Committee on Education (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/42b3ad13216c53051223ab9d5147d8f2f53a1582a67c8fdb03c22e938806e762985bf1c27f500d31bb0efade6c44ed49
House Bill 673Requires school districts that provide sex education to teach comprehensive sex education. Hearing scheduled for 5/20 (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/e1d9b203fa0b916c14aaf4df68808029fc8800c1f922e6f0d73c3f592596cc7d5778d49ae78425eace4850938a9a19e6
House Bill 3718 Requires the development of an anti-racist education commission to develop anti-racist instruction to be taught in health, science, English and history courses. Referred to the Joint Committee on Education Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/0adcab4dc35b4faa0f67dbdcae2e19a0521d7a133f1dfc91fb9d0ac5c49772fe35340cec1ec48eaa1188a101d58c0314
House Bill 717Requires parental consent for a student to be referred to or provided the information of an organization or individual outside of the direct control of the school district if the organization or material involves information pertaining to health, reproductive health, gendery identity, bullying, or psychological problems. Further requires parental consent for student participation in surveys concerning personal issues, including emotional and psychological concerns, sexual behavior and attitudes, reproductive health, or relationships. Introduced (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/99d386228f99b02666d92c06e0130753e76f1462e26810407392cd5ed9f0783112853a158279fa7193c7295aa816d161
House Docket 934Requires schools to implement age appropriate instruction on consent in grades K-12Introduced (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/8272887485b3f45e07f493e38ba80ffcb06da714a3234ec1de32d3f2d914d93c915832a23cb403f9ee440eb8ed979428
House Docket 2240 Requires districts to obtain parental consent prior to providing students referral to, the contact information of, or other informational materials of an individual or organization if the materials involves information or counseling about health, psychological problems, reproduction, abortion, sexual education, sexual orientation, gender identity, bullying, or similar issues. No student, without prior written consent of a parent or guardian, shall participate in a survey or evaluation concerning personal issues included sexual behavior or attitudes, birth control or abortion, or additional health behaviors. Introduced (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/4706ef874ee7302f4cb129285328e4db10dd40b5c4b7b3b399fe1d98d1b64296199c0eec9f4a5e8cd4b38197525f84ea
Senate Bill 318 Requires school districts that provide sex education to teach comprehensive sex education. Referred to the Joint Committee on Education (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/079954c81661318649543825e930646760b047d30a18e425cfe4fec12d4428ba37e2fec74300f6ebfc743c8dd2031a67
House Bill 2409Prohibits abortion if the fetus has been diagnosed or may be diagnosed with Downs syndrome. Hearing scheduled for 6/07 (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/292fb730a6e918648f3796a2023ea181d7c969bc17d6ed97ef7a4c6806777b87402057a599d94bf38b6bd132d6eece5e
Senate Bill 2495Requires schools that teach sex education to provide comprehensive sex education. Referred to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/1e403543746e07f58a93b3ee61e5c6733e38d1b5b08ba8fb1e7fb1abcb492803de4e3b9264b01a8f3dfd80d19497f316
Senate Bill 2541Requires schools that teach sex education to provide comprehensive sex education. Referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/9992ab473efb1c0dd4524a11f9b30279f01dce504566da8c960672538c5046f743cce80162e5e050dd796b3c3f843965
Senate Docket 1396Requires academic standards to include instruction on the histories, roles, and contributions of LGBTQ people in the history of the United States and MassachusettsIntroduced (2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/1c3c2ece7d9e0309727cc75d2383f036f6ed64095d6cef14348dbb72247eb7d81e632057b2590509d247c1e4528bae37
Senate Docket 1819 Requires schools to teach mental health education. Introduced (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/c65dd37999c98803d1b2a11038ea6e293ebc977edfa09e2733821df7ee43202af01876f3e8a0a8eb373eea8657b17eff
Senate Bill 318Requires schools that provide sex education to teach comprehensive sex education. Referred to the House Committee on Education (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/297938356f8f025bfade25f7efd70e7dba02bf05b561643e536ffe3605c32a51b3e5837378a66e5f1923ba93e1fca43b
Senate Bill 286Among other revisions concerning safer schools, requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary schools to develop practices that support the creation of healthy relationships and counter sexual harassment, sexual assault, and harassment based on other identities, including race, gender, sexual orientation, and religionReferred to the Joint Committee on Education (2021) Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/1e70fd07a2080bacd46ad1bf2482851667ed47ee7c044f9df577000e7d970837394c19a7a462fa24cb196dccf693b7ae
Senate Docket 2231Requires sex education to include instruction on child exploitation awareness education. Introduced (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/5c1b63d6b602bf0b4d1a811adbe6f6fe2d619dafba7eac48f0fe694e65d50f104a5eb90ff11d6caa6921638fc61e021c
Senate Bill 2541Requires school districts that provide sex education to teach comprehensive sex education. Passed the Senate (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/9992ab473efb1c0dd4524a11f9b30279f01dce504566da8c960672538c5046f743cce80162e5e050dd796b3c3f843965
House Bill 410Requires schools that teach sex education to utilize research informed curriculum that offers medically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education.Died in the Joint Health Care Financing Committee (2020)Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/9da6f5baf39f29f62b0f9d7811e92cbba974d90ddd478a1ba9d7ac503bc09c74ed9db08c1fc18b6d51bc15d97c16dba8
House Bill 503Requires every school that teaches sex education to establish a policy ensuring parental or guardian notification. Sex education can only be offered as a non-mandatory elective in which parents and guardians provide written consent for their children to participate in the instruction. Accompanied H410 (2020)Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/2700002e5dac56d316799b6d567ec52c727af77ffe120db020945ddaaf288e72baf27324558ba5f60940ffef98d7ffd5
House Bill 3550Requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, with the Department of Public Health, to assist districts and charter schools in developing and implementing a consent program that is evidence-based and age-appropriate.Accompanied H410 (2020)Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/9b9083eb9fef384a473c53851dfd8dcedcf9ba2d9fcba8cdad8efd70ef6eb5dfbab93f45d600c5dc5c4e5aaf6ea062c1
Senate Bill 858Prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by educational institutions.Accompanied to a study order, see S 2496 (2020)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/37a18cc84016f81810c968457e62830c6e0b367c159bc350600ed3a5b494b8e307a1210751ec99c9a82161b8e4c72d13
Senate Bill 1237 Further expands access to preventative HIV screening and testing for young people. Died in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means (2020)HIV/AIDS (That Impacts Young People) https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/1b444130117e04d5621e8e5008545154c0d896f2c639ffbd247fc186bd4aa6bd55b7fac207944ffcec30e128bd9801f0
Senate Bill 1265Further expands access to preventative HIV screening and testing for young people. Accompanied S1237 (2020)HIV/AIDS (That Impacts Young People) https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/84242e2a2fe5cf18f569cde8a448c473d2d5d3b8bd369094efd8572a3e342e3650b180d9ec9066668b494c13d669e7f0
Senate Bill 1278Prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by educational institutions.Accompanied to a study order, see S 2496 (2020)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/37a18cc84016f81810c968457e62830c6e0b367c159bc350600ed3a5b494b8e307a1210751ec99c9a82161b8e4c72d13
Senate Bill 2459Requires schools that teach sex education to establish a policy ensuring parents and guardians recieve notification of the curriculum and the right of the parent or guardian to remove their children from the instruction. Reprinted as amended, see S2475 (2020)Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/ba8a19d25d7d297d91dcd3773a587d61d339dd5ea1e51e231b2b080e264134c3a98b0836a6be048594e8d21776c474fc
Senate Bill 2475Requires school districts offering sex education to provide comprehensive sex education. Died in the House Committee on Ways and Means (2020)Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/e870f767d05280a6c741313be904523175659edbda49f101e14994035e1bbd6c3235e8b78b7fa7cc59fc864457fcdf2a

Youth Sexual Health Data

Young people are more than their health behaviors and outcomes. While data can be a powerful tool to demonstrate the sex education and sexual health care needs of young people, it is important to be mindful that these behaviors and outcomes are impacted by systemic inequities present in our society that affect an individual’s sexual health and well-being. To learn more about Massachusetts’ Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results, click here.

Massachusetts School Health Profiles Data 

In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the School Health Profiles, which measure school health policies and practices and highlight which health topics were taught in schools across the country. Since the data were collected from self-administered questionnaires completed by schools’ principals and lead health education teachers, the CDC notes that one limitation of the School Health Profiles is bias toward the reporting of more positive policies and practices. In the School Health Profiles, the CDC identifies 20 sexual health education topics as critical for ensuring a young person’s sexual health. Below are key instruction highlights for secondary schools in Massachusetts as reported for the 2017–2018 school year.

Reported teaching all 20 critical sexual health education topics

  • 27.6% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students all 20 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 61.6% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students all 20 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about the benefits of being sexually abstinent

  • 72.1% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 91.4 % of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching how to access valid and reliable information, products, and services related to HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy

  • 66.7% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students how to access valid and reliable information, products, and services related to HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 90.5% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students how to access valid and reliable information, products, and services related to HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching how to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships

  • 76.4% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students how to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 92.7% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students how to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health

  • 63.5% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students about preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 87.4% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students about preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching how to correctly use a condom

  • 36.7% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 79.3% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about methods of contraception other than condoms

  • 51.6% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 86.5% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about sexual orientation

  • 63% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 82.9% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression

  • 62.8% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 82.8% of Massachusetts secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported providing curricula or supplementary materials relevant to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) youth 

  • 68.3% of Massachusetts secondary schools provided students with curricula or supplementary materials that included HIV, STD, or pregnancy prevention information relevant to LGBTQ youth.

(Visit the CDC’s School Health Profiles report for additional information on school health policies and practices.)

 

***The quality of sex education taught often reflects funding available for sex education programs. To learn more about federal funding streams, click here.

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