Tennessee sex-ed bill: unreasonable and unrealistic

Daniel Perret-Goluboff

Given that all public school students are forced — typically during their freshman year of high school — to take sex education, you probably have some recollection of taking the course. Odds are these memories are composed primarily of discomfort and boredom interspersed by the obtrusive interruptions of your less mature classmates.

Regardless of how much disdain we all might have felt for these classes at the time, it is worth recognizing that our more aged selves do — or at least should — see the merit in continuing to mandate sex education for the students of America.

And of course, why wouldn’t we? Sexual activity may be one of the few universally-enjoyed hobbies on Earth. Therefore, we have to expect that each generation of youth will, at some point, begin to engage in these behaviors.

So naturally, the best thing that we could do for the youth in this context would be to educate them so that they can make their own decisions safely and responsibly when they are ready to do so. Right? I would think so. New legislation in the state of Tennessee, however, seems to contradict this thought.

Senate bill 3310, introduced into debate recently, proposes that the state of Tennessee’s current “abstinence-only” –what fun — curriculum be amended to also teach the discouragement of what is being referred to as “gateway sexual activity.”

Although bill 3310 never actually gives a hard and finite definition of what “gateway sexual activity” is, many have been interpreting it to mean any act that has the potential to lead to sexual acts. These “gateway” acts might include kissing, handholding, dancing in certain manners, etc.

I can’t be the only one who sees how absurd this is, right? Abstinence-only sex education curriculums are already unreasonable without this kind of ridiculous addendum. For the few of you whose moral or ethical beliefs cause you to disagree with me, take a look at the numbers.

According to ***The Huffington Post***, 61 percent of high school students in Memphis have had sex by the time they graduate. Does that number seem high to you? Try this one: 27 percent of Memphis middle school students have had sex by the time that they complete the eighth grade.

What I’m getting at is this: Abstinence may indeed be the right choice for a very specific group of people, but those people are not the majority of public school students who, speaking strictly by the numbers, seem to be very likely to engage in sex by the time that they graduate high school.

As though this glaring oversight weren’t embarrassing enough for the lawmakers attempting to introduce this bill, they have done one better: legal penalties are to be put in play for any teacher or school official who instructs or encourages a student to participate in other methods of sexual safety that deviate from strict abstinence — e.g., contraception and birth control.

Given that sex is an immensely multifaceted and complex subject, we as a nation cannot afford to expose our youth to anything short of an immensely multifaceted and complex education curriculum regarding all sides and situations of the topic.

All that we are doing by enforcing abstinence-only curriculums is contributing to an unrealistic expectation of our youth that creates a social cycle in which those engaging in this most natural of behaviors are both vilified and unaware.