While teen births continue to decline in the United States, the regional differences are hard to miss. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly all of the states with the highest rates for teen pregnancies are in the Deep South (a.k.a., the “Bible Belt”), where abstinence-only policies are the norm.
So, while Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire lead the nation with the lowest rates, states like Mississippi and Arkansas lead the nation in the other direction.
Tennessee, meanwhile, is roughly tied with Alabama in the top 10 (or bottom 10, depending on how you look at it), and policymakers in the Volunteer State are eager to address the problem. Might that include scrapping ineffective abstinence-only policies that clearly only lead to more teen births? Well, no. The new solutions involve banning “gateway sexual activities.”
Tennessee teachers can no longer condone so-called “gateway sexual activity” such as touching genitals under a new law that critics say is too vague and could hamper discussion about safe sexual behavior.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s office Friday confirmed to Reuters that Haslam had signed the bill…. Under the law, Tennessee teachers could be disciplined and speakers from outside groups like Planned Parenthood could face fines of up to $500 for promoting or condoning “gateway sexual activities.”
Parents could sue outside sexual education instructors, according to the Tennessean newspaper, while school district employees would be exempt from prosecution.
What constitutes a “gateway sexual activity”? That’s not nearly as clear as it should be – the proposal defines “gateway sexual activity” as “sexual conduct encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior.”
Similarly, the new state law doesn’t explain what “condone” means, either. Educators are left with no idea how or whether they discuss certain aspects of sexual health in a classroom setting without being accused of condoning and/or encouraging that behavior.
It’s probably too off the wall to even consider in Nashville, but wouldn’t a reevaluation of failed abstinence policies be easier and more effective than combating alleged and ill-defined “gateway” behaviors?