What’s A “Gateway Sexual Activity” In Tennessee?
Governor Bill Halsam of Tennessee has signed into effect a new law that will limit how teachers can discuss sex education, outlawing the approval of “gateway sexual activity.” Opponents cite Tenneesee’s troubling statistics, but critics say the law is vague and will only put teens more at risk.
State Rep. Jon Lundberg explained that the law is aimed at high rates of teen pregnancy (seventh highest in the nation) and sexually-transmitted infections in the state (Tennessee has the 11th highest HIV infection rates in the US):
The shift is that the main core needs to be an abstinence-based approach. Not, ‘hey, I know everybody’s having sex, so when you have sex do this, do this, [and] do this.’ That’s not it.
While supporters say “gateway sexual activity” is clearly defined in state law, opponents disagree. A spokesman for the Tennessee Education Association said that the bill’s “very ambiguous language certainly puts teachers in a difficult situation.”
Major forces behind the law are also under fire for accusing Planned Parenthood of teaching anal and oral sex as forms of birth control, which the health care organization says is “utterly false.”
What’s more confounding is how legislators could think this will help the problem. While abstinence may be effective, teaching it as a primary method has generally only produced teens who lack basic understanding of sexuality and sexual health, but have sex anyway. Many studies have firmly established that abstinence-only education is tied to higher teen pregnancy and STI rates.