It's long been argued that marijuana is a gateway drug for other substances, but a controversial sex education bill recently signed into law by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has introduced a new definition: gateway sexual activity.
Bill Haslam's website Critics are firing back at Tennessee's controversial "no holding hand bill" saying it could lead to students not getting the comprehensive education they need to learn how to avoid teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Gov. Haslam recently signed the bill into law making it effective July 1.
The bill, HB 3621/SB 3310, bans teaching students about "gateway sexual activity." The problem is the bill doesn't truly define what exactly a gateway sexual activity is and so critics are now left wondering if kissing and holding hands could be classified as such. To that end, they have labeled the legislation the "no holding hands bill."
The law takes effect July 1.
According to the bill, gateway sexual activity means "sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior." It further stated that a person promotes gateway sexual activity by "encouraging, advocating, urging or condoning gateway sexual activities."
It was a classroom demonstration involving a sex toy that spurred the strict pro-abstinence sex education law, according to the Associated Press.
David Fowler, president of Family Action Council, helped draft the bill. He told the website, PolitiFact.com that "gateway sexual activity" means "sexual contact" that's in accordance to the state's criminal law and that refers to the "intentional touching" of areas such as the "groin, inner thigh, buttock or breast of a human being."
Though kissing and holding hands are not a part of the criminal definition, critics can't help but reiterate how vague the law is.
"Gateway sexual activity is so vaguely defined it could be holding hands, hugging, anything that teenagers do like that," State Rep. Mike Stewart, Democrat of Nashville, said during House floor debate, according to PolitiFact.
Under the new law, the curriculum of Tennessee schools is required to "exclusively and emphatically promote sexual risk avoidance through abstinence, regardless of a student's current or prior sexual experience." Should outside instructors or organizations teach students about "gateway sexual activity" in a sex ed class, they could be fined $500, under the new law.
Under the law, abstinence-based programs must be implemented in a county where the pregnancy rate exceeded 19.5 pregnancies per 1,000 females between ages 11 and 18 years. In Tennessee, according to Department of Health data cited by the law, the pregnancy rate in any county exceeded 19.5 pregnancies per 1,000 females between ages 15 and 17
The AP reported that in 2009 in Tennessee, there were 29.6 pregnancies per 1,000 girls, down from a rate of 48.2 in 1998.
Supporters of the bill were vague on what "gateway" meant during floor debate.
In April, Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, testified that everyone present in the room knew what "gateway sexual activity" is.
"Everybody knows there are certain buttons when you push them, certain switches when you turn them on, there's no stopping, especially for undisciplined, untrained, untaught and unraised (sic) children who just want to feel affection from somebody or anybody," he said.
Others said the bill is doing Tennessee students a "serious disservice." Some are worried teenagers could end up less informed about preventing pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Barry Chase, president of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, told the AP that the bill will prevent educators in Tennessee "from providing the comprehensive education that students want and need and their parents expect."
But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jim Gotto, also told the news organization that HB 3621 is being characterized wrongly.
"It's not abstinence-only education," he told the AP. "I'm so sick of people trying to spin it as that ... because they don't like it. The law does specify that the curriculum has to be abstinence-focused, but they can talk about contraception."
Do you think the new sex ed law will reduce the high teenage pregnancy rate in Tennessee or will teenagers be more uneducated about prevention? Let us know in the comment box below.
Critics are firing back at Tennessee's controversial "no holding hand bill" saying it could lead to students not getting the comprehensive education they need to learn how to avoid teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Gov. Haslam recently signed the bill into law making it effective July 1.