About

California Senate Passes Youth Health + Equity Bill

Release Date
Contact Information

Amy Moy / 415.518.4465 / amoy@essentialaccess.org

Bill Seeks to Make Free Condoms Available in Public Schools to Address STI Crisis Among California Youth

Sacramento, CA – Today, the California Senate passed SB 954 - the Youth Health Equity + Safety (YHES) Act with a 29-9 vote, marking a major step forward for advancing youth equity across the state. Authored by Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley), the bill seeks to address the sexually transmitted infection (STI) epidemic among young Californians by expanding teen access to internal and external condoms in schools and communities. The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

The measure comes at a crucial time as STI rates continue to rise at alarming rates among youth, particularly youth of color and LGBTQ+ youth. Although some schools and school districts are already making free condoms available, a majority of public high schools in California do not. SB 954 will be accompanied by a request for funding in the FY 2024-2025 state budget to support free condom access in public high schools statewide over a three-year period, if other funding sources are not available to schools for this purpose. In addition, retail outlets and pharmacies across the state have different policies regarding condom accessibility and how to manage and address possible employee bias. 

SB 954 is an important measure developed to focus on these inequities and reduce barriers to evidence-based interventions, promote safer sex practices and reduce the transmission of STIs. 

“We cannot continue ignoring the STI epidemic among our youth when some high schools and retailers are enacting dangerous policies that deny them the ability to protect themselves,” states Senator Menjivar. “SB 954 aims to safeguard the health and futures of high school students statewide by increasing equitable access to condoms while also increasing fiscal responsibility. Investing in prevention is a fraction of the cost compared to the millions California spends on the treatment of STIs every year. The May budget revise includes proposed funding for End the Epidemic investments, $5 million of which I have requested to fund condoms in high schools over three years. My colleagues voted a similar bill out of Assembly committees last year, and they must do so again. This isn’t about a catchy headline but rather the health and safety of our youth.”

According to a survey conducted by TeenSource among California teens between December 2023-January 2024, 68 percent of teens indicated they do not have access to condoms in schools and 98 percent of respondents agreed that teens would use condoms if they were more accessible. Approximately 92% of youth said schools should make condoms available. While abstinence is the most effective way to avoid sexually transmitted infections, condoms are the only method that protects sexually active teens against STIs and ensures that they are safe and healthy. Research studies have shown that schools with condom availability programs (CAPs) in high schools do not increase sexual activity among teens and can increase condom use.

The Los Angeles Unified School District and San Francisco Unified School District established condom access programs in the 1990s at high schools with the support of funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Requiring all public high schools in California to provide condoms is part of a statewide strategy to curb rising STI rates and will build upon our state’s leadership and commitment to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care. In 2021, Vermont became the first state to require free condoms in public middle and high schools. In addition, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education passed a new policy that requires schools that teach fifth grade and up to maintain a condom availability program.

SB 954, 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);
  • Allow school-based health centers to make condoms available to students; and
  • Prohibit pharmacies and retailers from asking for proof of age/identification for condom purchases.

Youth Speak Out in Favor of the YHES Act

“SB 954 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 student 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 954.

“Sex education is the essential knowledge we need to navigate our whole lives. It is glaringly apparent that having the proper education on the human body is crucial in order to foster a more conscientious and considerate population. All humans reserve the right to understand the basic functions of their bodies. According to a CDC study, only 43% of high schools offer comprehensive sex education while only a mere 18% of middle schools in the nation teach key sex education topics. Evidently, there is a gap in consistency among 6-12 learning institutions when it comes to sexual education courses. However, this gap could significantly decrease with the fulfillment and enforcement of such courses. With the passage of SB 954, an essential step towards healthy conversation and an open learning environment is being taken,” said Tiana Zhang, Policy Associate with Voters of Tomorrow California, a Gen Z-led organization that engages and represents young Americans in politics and government. Voters of Tomorrow is a co-sponsor of SB 954.

“SB 954, the Youth Health Equity and Safety Act, is a game-changer. It's not just about condoms in schools; it's about empowering us with the knowledge and tools we need for responsible choices, fostering a safer and healthier future for all California youth," said Martin Orea, 12th grader from Fullerton and YHES 4 Condoms Youth Ambassador.

In response to the bill’s advancement, co-sponsors Generation Up, Voters of Tomorrow California, Black Women for Wellness Action Project, California School-Based Health Alliance, Essential Access Health, and Unite for Reproductive Justice and Gender Equity California released the following statements:

“SB 954 marks a significant stride in our ongoing battle for health equity. This legislation underscores our unwavering commitment to dismantling system barriers and ensuring communities have equitable access to essential sexual health resources,” said Lonnell Schuler, Director of Youth Programs, Black Women for Wellness Action Project. “At Black Women for Wellness Action Project, we stand resolute in our mission to advocate for policies that uplift Black women and girls, forging a path towards a healthier, more just future for all.”

“California’s youth spend most of their time in school, so it makes the most sense to meet them where they are when it comes to their comprehensive health needs. Ensuring all youth - especially those most at risk of contracting STIs - have free access to condoms in school will reduce stigma and the barriers so many youth face when making important decisions to safeguard their sexual health,” said Sergio J. Morales, Executive Director of the California School-Based Health Alliance. 

“We have made significant strides in California to reduce barriers to sexual and reproductive health care - but youth, and particularly LGBTQIA+ youth and youth of color, 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 can no longer afford inaction. We thank Senator Menjivar for her leadership, and thank members of the Senate for voting in support of youth health equity and safety,” 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.” 


###

Background

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 2021, an average of 21% of California high school students were sexually active and about half 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.