The lunacy of Tennessee legislators seems to know no bounds.
After concluding that the “Don’t Say Gay” bill wasn’t going to fly, they immediately decided to attempt to legislate morality. Like Puritans, they now want to silence any and all talk about sex.
SB 3310/HB 3621 requires sex education in Tennessee schools to “exclusively and emphatically” focus on abstinence. The bill could label normal teen behavior — holding hands, flirting, hugging, etc. — as “gateway sexual activity,” and threaten schools with stiff penalties if they don’t do everything in their power to discourage it. But as we all know, having been teenagers ourselves, nothing that we do is going to keep teenagers from holding hands and flirting. Like absence, total abstinence only makes the heart grow fonder.
According to the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, “If this bill is signed into law, schools will only be able to tell students to remain abstinent. [But] preventing our teachers from providing information about sexual activity will not stop young people from seeking out the answers on their own. It’s more likely the information they cobble together will be uniformed, ill-advised, or downright wrong.”
The ACLU also pointed out that providing teens with information about sex and its consequences helps them delay having sex and protects their health. Nationwide, teenagers who participated in sex-ed programs that discuss the importance of delaying sex and which provide information about contraceptives were significantly less likely to report teen pregnancies than those who received no sex education or attended abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, according to a Journal of Adolescent Health study (Kohler).
Abstinence-only programs endanger teenagers’ health because teens who participate in such programs are less likely to use contraception or get tested for STDs, according to another Journal of Adolescent Health study (Bruckner and Bearman).
Major medical groups support comprehensive sex education, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine.
And our own experience should inform us, as well. Nothing our parents said or did was going to keep us from holding hands and flirting. Boys are going to be boys, and girls are going to be girls, once they reach puberty. If they want to know the facts of life — and nearly everyone does, at some point — they can get all the pointers in the world from TV shows, movies and magazines that glamorize sex. So no one should be fooled into believing that not talking about sex is going to do any good whatsoever. What does make sense is to be sure that children know the dangers of having sex, and the advantages of waiting to have sex and of having protected sex when the time finally arrives.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.