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The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act would provide grants for comprehensive sex education to public or private entities that focus on adolescent health and education or have experience with training sex educators.
Sexual risk avoidance education (previously known as abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education) programs frequently exclude, or even denigrate, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) students. These programs are prohibited by law from discussing contraceptive use and often exclude LGBTQ youth. Sexual risk avoidance programs have been discredited by a wide body of evidence, including a Congressionally-mandated study in 2007 which found these programs ineffective in stopping or delaying teen sex, reducing the number of reported sexual partners, reducing sexually transmitted infections, or otherwise beneficially impacting young people’s sexual behavior. Additionally, no study in a professional peer-reviewed journal has found sexual risk avoidance programs to be broadly effective. Despite a wealth of evidence indicating that comprehensive sex education is most effective in delaying sexual intercourse, increasing condom and contraceptive use, and reducing the number of partners among teens, Congress has spent more than $2.0 billion on sexual risk avoidance programs since 1996.
The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (REHYA) would fund teacher training on sex education and provide grants for comprehensive sex education to public or private entities that focus on adolescent health and education or have experience with training sex educators. In addition, REHYA would require, rather than merely encourage, inclusiveness of LGBTQ youth in the funded sex education programs and would prohibit federal funding of programs that are insensitive and unresponsive to the needs of LGBTQ youth.
The goals of the legislation include preventing unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, sexual abuse, dating violence, bullying, and harassment. The legislation also seeks to promote healthy relationships and aims to uphold the rights of youth to accurate information about sexual health. Federal funding would be prohibited for any programs that would withhold information about HIV, are not medically accurate or are proven ineffective, promote gender stereotypes, or are inconsistent with ethical imperatives of public health. The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act would also eliminate federal funding for harmful sexual risk avoidance education programs, instead reprogramming the funding to support the new comprehensive grant program.
A HRC Foundation's internal analysis of public opinion data from the 2018 General Social Survey found that while 91% of adults think that teenagers having sex before marriage is generally wrong, 91% of adults in the U.S. still favor sex education in public schools. This includes approximately 96% of Democrats, 89% of Independents and 86% of Republicans. In addition, a 2014-2015 YouGov poll found that a majority of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans support teenagers being taught about various methods of birth control as opposed to only abstinence. The American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics all oppose government funding for abstinence-only programs on the grounds that they are ineffective and fail to give youth the tools they need to make responsible decisions. The Institute of Medicine has called for the termination of abstinence-only programs because they represent “poor fiscal and public health policy.” Substantial evidence captured in the Journal of Adolescent Health supports sex education, including LGBTQ-inclusive sex education, beginning in elementary school that is scaffolded and of longer duration. The evidence also indicates that a broad definition of sexual health, with a positive and affirming approach is highly effective.
The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) on May 14, 2019 and in the Senate by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) on May 16, 2019.
The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act has yet to be reintroduced in the 117th Congress.
Last Updated: March 22, 2021