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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
TENNESSEE: Teen 'Sexual Activity' Bill OK'd
Tom Humphrey
May 1, 2012
Knoxville News-Sentinel (04.30.12) - Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Tennessee Senate on Friday approved a House amendment to SB 3310, sending the sex education guidelines bill to the governor for consideration.

Under the measure, classroom instructors who promote or condone "gateway sexual activity" are subject to a $500 fine. The bill says "gateway sexual activity means sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior." Some lawmakers objected to that language, calling it unclear. "Gateway sexual activity is so vaguely defined it could be holding hands, hugging, anything that teenagers do like that," said Rep. Mike Steward (D-Nashville).

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jim Gotto (R-Nashville), said the definition is based on state criminal code. Sexual contact is the "intentional touching" of another person's "intimate parts, or the intentional touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of ... any other person's intimate parts, if that intentional touching can be reasonably construed as being for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification," according to section code.

Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis) spoke out in favor of the bill. "Everyone in this room knows what gateway sexual activity is," he said, noting that leaving teens without classroom guidance has resulted in the state caring for thousands of neglected or abused children.

SB 3310 calls for the family life curriculum taught in schools to have an "emphatic and exclusive" focus on abstinence; current law calls only for an emphasis on abstinence. The measure also allows parents to bring charges against an instructor for condoning "gateway sexual activity."