Tennessee's House of Representatives has passed a bill updating the state's abstinence-based sex education law to specifically aim at the prevention of "gateway sexual activity." Senate Bill 3310 defines "gateway sexual activity" as "sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior," though the term "sexual contact" is not defined in the bill.
"Gateway sexual activity is so vaguely defined it could be holding hands, hugging, anything that teenagers do like that, " said Democratic Rep. Mike Stewart (Nashville) according to KnoxNews.
The legislation essentially forbids teachers and third-party instructors from discussing "gateway sexual activity," and was passed in a controversial effort to curb teen pregnancy. A local media outlet WMC-TV reported, "According to a 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Study, 61 percent of Memphis City high school students and 27 percent of middle school students have had sex. That's higher than the national average."
However, while on the House floor, Stewart said that studies have shown that abstinence-based sex education does not work in lowering teen pregnancies.
The bill would allow parents to take legal action against teachers who promote or condone "gateway sexual activity," and instructors who violate the bill may be subject to a $500 fine. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which provide sex education information in schools, could also be subjected to the fine. Furthermore, the bill will prevent the distribution of contraception on school property.
Some critics have complained that under the bill, teachers would be held liable for breaking up hugs and kisses. But Republic Rep. John DeBerry, a support of the bill, argues that it is easy to identify "gateway sexual activity."
"I think you and I both would know when we're looking at a kiss, and when we're looking at, for a lack of a better way of saying it, someone who is trying to open the door to more activities," said DeBerry, as reported by WReg.
Several organizations have spoken out against the legislation. "This is not something we've asked for, nor do we wish to police the sexual activities of students," said President of the Memphis Education Association Keith Williams. "That is something that squarely belong in the home, at the churches and synagogues."
The bill passed the House 68-23, with only one Republican voting against it.
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