Tennessee Sex Ed Law Bans Discussion of "Gateway Sexual Behavior"
A new Tennessee law backing an abstinence-centered approach to sex education bans teachers from discussing or condoning any "gateway sexual activity" such as genital contact.
According to Family Action Council of Tennessee President David Fowler, instructors can reference kissing and hand-holding as innocent behaviors, but any mention of touching genitals, breasts, buttocks and inner thighs, as well as any discussion of oral sex, is strictly prohibited. Teachers who break the rules can be fined up to $500.
Fowler said the law was authored partly because of reports that teachers were instructing teenagers about other sexual practices that could serve as alternatives vaginal sex, which leads to pregnancy and carries a much higher risk of HIV contraction. According to statistics, the state ranks as the 7th highest in teen birth rate and 11th highest in the HIV infection rate.
Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill after it sailed through both houses of the Tennessee Congress. The state Senate passed the bill 28-1, and the House passed it 68-23.
But critics say the law is too vague, and maintain that taking a “just say no” policy to sex will not work any better than the “just say no to drugs” campaign. (New research from The Partnership at Drugfree.org has shown that marijuana use among teens has increased significantly since 2008.)
"Tennessee students need more information about puberty, their own bodies and proven methods that prevent pregnancy and the spread of disease," said the Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region in a statement. "Denying them this prevention information in order to exclusively promote abstinence until marriage does our students a serious disservice."
What do you think? Should teens be taught about "gate-way sexual behavior," or should sex ed lessons be entirely focused on promoting abstinence?