Gov. Bill Haslam’s office said Friday that he has signed legislation that adds the concept of “gateway sexual activity” to the state’s abstinence-first sex education curriculum.Yes, that's right. The language of the War on Drugs is now being used to discuss normal affection & sexual behaviors, with being "felt up" akin to marijuana and making sex little more than cocaine. Because that's totally healthy thinking on sex right there, amirite? And! And! Get this:
Haslam signed Senate Bill 3310 over calls to veto the measure from the American Civil Liberties Union and others. The measure says that sex ed teachers cannot encourage “gateway” activities that stop short of sexual intercourse.
The law also lets parents sue outside sex ed instructors, such as Planned Parenthood, if they run afoul of the state curriculum. Instructors employed by school districts are exempt from legal penalties.Yes, you read that right. A parent can sue if someone doesn't toe that line regarding stigmatizing and shaming so-called "gateway" sexual activities.
Here is from the bill summary:
This bill defines "family life education" as an abstinence-centered sex education program that builds a foundation of knowledge and skills relating to character development, human development, decision-making, abstinence, contraception and disease prevention. This bill prohibits an LEA from utilizing the services of any individual or organization to assist in teaching family life if that individual or organization endorses student non-abstinence as an appropriate or acceptable behavior, or if that individual or organization promotes gateway sexual activity.The bill says no one would be subject to penalties if the instructor, teacher or from an outside group, is answering ("in good faith") a question asked by a student.
Instruction of the family life education curriculum may not:
(1) Promote any gateway sexual activity or health message that encourages students to experiment with non-coital sexual activity;
(2) Provide or distribute materials on school grounds that condone, encourage or promote student sexual activity among unmarried students;
(3) Display or conduct demonstrations with devices manufactured specifically for sexual stimulation; or
(4) Distribute contraception on school property; provided, however, medically-accurate information about contraception and condoms may be provided so long as it is presented in a manner consistent with the provisions described above and clearly informs students that while such methods may reduce the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases or becoming pregnant, only abstinence removes all risk.
Under this bill, a parent or legal guardian of a student enrolled in family life education may file a complaint with the director of schools if the parent or legal guardian believes that a teacher, instructor, or representative of an organization has not complied with the requirements of this bill. The director must investigate the complaint and report such director's findings, along with any recommendations for disciplinary action, to the local board for further action. The local board must file a report with the commissioner regarding any action or inaction taken. On an annual basis, the commissioner must transmit those filings to the chairs of the education committees of each house.
A parent or legal guardian of a student present for any type of instruction by an instructor or organization that promotes gateway sexual activity or demonstrates sexual activity, as prohibited under this bill, will have a cause of action against that instructor or organization for actual damages plus reasonable attorney's fees and court costs. This provision would not apply to instruction by teachers employed by the LEA. If the parent or legal guardian is the prevailing party to the action, the court may impose a civil fine in an amount not to exceed $500. An action brought under this provision must be commenced within one year after the alleged violation occurred. [...]
It's not just that abstinence-only sexual education is a failure of adults who should be preparing young people to be able to navigate their current and future lives. I mean, it is that:
• There is no evidence to date that abstinence-only-until-marriage education delays teen sexual activity. Moreover, research shows that abstinence-only strategies may deter contraceptive use among sexually active teens, increasing their risk of unintended pregnancy and STIs.And (.pdf):
• A 2007 congressionally mandated study found that federally-funded abstinence-only programs have no beneficial impact on young people’s sexual behavior.
• Leading public health and medical professional organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association, the Institute of Medicine and the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, support a comprehensive approach to educating young people about sex.
What the Research Tells UsIt's that this bill is a terrible "answer" to the "problem" of a high teen pregnancy rate. Look, it's not that I think teenagers facing pregnancy, parenthood, the emotionally complex option of adoption, or having to find a way to access an abortion (potentially in the fact of disapproving/unsupportive parents) is in any way trivial or ideal. It's a hard road and one that I don't necessarily recommend because of difficulties faced. I firmly do not believe teenagers choosing any of the available choices should be ostracized in any way nor do I believe that they have automatically "ruined their lives". I know: I was a teenage parent myself.
Behavior research cannot make judgments about social values, but it can evaluate the success of school-based curricula at producing tangible outcomes for young people. The weight of the evidence from peer-reviewed scientific journals clearly shows that some comprehensive sex education programs can reduce behavior that puts young people at risk of HIV, STIs and unintended pregnancy, and that these programs do not promote earlier onset of sexual activity or an increased number of sexual partners among adolescents. By contrast, little if any credible research exists to substantiate the claims that abstinence-only programming leads to positive behavior change among youth.
The credible research sends a clear message to policy makers: if the goal of school-based sex education is to increase positive health out- comes for youth, comprehensive (or “abstinence-plus”) sex education is the proven effective choice. Abstinence-only programming runs the serious risk of leaving young people, especially those at elevated risk, uninformed and alienated.
It's that I don't believe that shame and stigmatization along with a straight up "bury head in sand" mentality from adults regarding teenage sexuality is in any way correct. Making (generally speaking) normal sexual experimentation and enjoyable physical relationships into "gateway activities"--invoking the language of the War on Drugs--alludes sexuality & sexual behaviors to criminal-like status. Words have meaning and that word "gateway" has been used over and over and over in schools and media for thirty years as something bad, something that leads to worse. Shame and fear should have no place in discussions about sex and healthy, typical behaviors. That sort of twisted and bizarre thinking about sexuality is not helping anyone. It will not prevent more teenage pregnancies.