California Legislature Passes Youth Health Equity + Safety (YHES) Act

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Amy Moy / 415.518.4465 / amoy@essentialaccess.org

Bill Addresses Rising STI Rates Among Youth by Requiring Free Condom Access in Public High Schools Statewide

Sacramento, CA – The Youth Health Equity + Safety (YHES) Act cleared the California Legislature and now moves to the Governor’s desk for signature. Authored by Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley), SB 541 seeks to support youth health and well-being, address the sexually transmitted infection (STI) epidemic among California youth, and improve public health outcomes statewide by expanding teen access to free internal and external condoms. If the measure is enacted, California would be the second state in the nation to require free condoms in public high schools.

The YHES Act seeks to:

  • Expand access to condoms by requiring public and charter high schools to make free condoms readily available to students;
  • Bar high schools from prohibiting condom distribution in the context of educational and public health programs and initiatives (i.e. during sex education classes taught by community partners, through student peer health programs, campus health fairs, or distributed by school-based health center staff);
  • Prohibit pharmacies and retailers from asking for proof of age/identification for condom purchases

Senator Caroline Menjivar emphasized the importance of empowering young people and expanding equitable access to STI prevention methods, stating, “I am very proud that SB 541, Youth Health Equity + Safety Act, is a youth-led bill. Young people want to take proactive measures against California’s STI crisis, and SB 541 can ensure that the youth who decide to become sexually active are able to protect themselves and their partners. Data shows, requiring high schools to provide access to free internal and external condoms does not increase sexual activity, but it can increase safe practices among those who do engage in sexual activity. I respectfully urge Governor Newsom to sign SB 541 and support young people’s ability to protect their health and futures.”

Youth Speak Out in Favor of the YHES Act

“SB 541 is a crucial step in destigmatizing the conversation about condoms and sexual health at schools. Providing free condoms at high schools will generate an atmosphere of non-judgment and security, and a feeling among students that our schools care for our well-being and can be a place where we can go when we need help and information,” said Sue Oh, a 12th grader from Orange County and leader at Generation Up (GENup), a California-based student-led social justice organization and student-activist coalition that strives to advocate for education through the power of youth voices. GENup is a co-sponsor of SB 541.

“The advancement of this bill is a huge victory for schools all around California. Access to condoms is vital to preventing STIs and unintended pregnancy and will help promote healthy reproductive health and safe sex,” said Terran Li, 12th grader from San Gabriel Valley and YHES 4 Condoms Youth Ambassador.

In response to the bill’s advancement, additional bill co-sponsors released the following statements:

“If we are to improve the health outcomes among young people in California, we must ensure that they have equitable access to the resources that equip them to make safer decisions around their sexual health,” said Onyemma Obiekea, Policy Director, Black Women for Wellness Action Project. "The YHES Act would implement proven interventions that help mitigate the persistent STI crisis in our state by removing unnecessary barriers –– a critical step towards supporting the well-being and dignity of our young people.”

“Today’s vote is a victory for California youth, and a positive step toward addressing rising STI rates among young people statewide. Teens and young adults continue to face inequitable health outcomes due to systemic stigma and bias, confidentiality and affordability concerns, and having to travel greater distances to obtain services. Ensuring access to free condoms in all public high schools in every school district is the bold action we need to support teen health and safety, and continue to advance sexual and reproductive health equity statewide. We thank Senator Menjivar for her leadership, applaud members of the California Legislature for their strong support of SB 541, and urge Governor Newsom to sign this important measure into law,” said Amy Moy, Co-CEO at Essential Access Health. 

“We know that young, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ young people are not only the most vulnerable to STIs but also face the most challenges in obtaining sex-positive and accurate sexual health information,” said Faith Chinnapong(She/They), Senior California State Organizer for URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity. “This legislation is a vital step towards ensuring that young people have the opportunity to take hold of their future, bodies, and health.” 



Youth Need Equitable Access to Condoms to Protect their Health + Safety

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), condoms are an important and effective tool in preventing HIV and other STIs. Statewide data indicates over half of all STIs are experienced among California youth ages 15 – 24 years old. Young people in this age group make up more than 5 out of every 10 chlamydia cases in California, and more than 87% are youth of color.

Condoms are an effective tool to reduce STI transmission, but condom use among sexually active teens has declined over the last decade. The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) shows that in 2019, an average of 20% of California high school students were sexually active and 47% of those students did not use condoms during their last sexual intercourse. 

Teens face multiple barriers to accessing condoms that deter them from seeking and securing the resources they need to protect themselves against STIs and unintended pregnancy. 

Teens have also long reported being shamed and harassed at some pharmacies and retailers while attempting to buy condoms, including being asked to show an I.D despite the fact that there are no age requirements for condom purchases. Teens from across the state have also reported that retail staff have “kicked [them] out” of stores when trying to buy condoms, while others were flat-out denied condoms because they were “under 18” years of age.