Thursday, July 5, 2012

New Tennessee Law Prevents Discussion of “Gateway Sexual Activity”

by Lee Davis

A law signed by Governor Bill Haslam has introduced a new legal term: gateway sexual activity. The bill, HB 3621/SB 3310, bans teaching Tennessee students about “gateway sexual activity.” One of the problems with the bill is that it does not clearly define what exactly that activity is. Critics have complained that a broad reading of the law could mean that behavior such as kissing or holding hands may qualify. Thus, those opposed to the new bill have labeled it the “no holding hands bill.”

According to the bill, a gateway sexual activity means “sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior.” Those found to have encouraged, advocated, urged or condoned such actions will be found in violation of Tennessee law.

The law was prompted by a classroom demonstration of a sex toy. Former State Sen.,David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council, helped draft the bill and said that “gateway sexual activity” means “sexual contact” such as any intentional touching of areas such as the “groin, inner thigh, buttock or breast of a human being.”

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 class, they could be fined up to $500

The law says that abstinence-based programs will be implemented in counties where the pregnancy rate exceeds 19.5 pregnancies per 1,000 females between ages 11 and 18, which essentially means every county in the state. The Associated Press reported that in 2009 in Tennessee, there were 29.6 pregnancies per 1,000 girls, down from a high of 48.2 in 1998.

Opponents have argued that the bill will do a disservice to Tennessee young people by making them less informed about ways to prevent disease and avoid pregnancies. They say that ignorance, and a lack of information, is never the way to improve a situation. 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.”

The law took effect July 1, 2012.

Read: “Tennessee Passes Law Against ‘Gateway Sexual Activity’, Critics Suspect Holding Hands Qualifies As Sex,” by Laura Matthews, published at

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