The Daily Pulse:

The Sexy Sex Ed Controversy Hits the Legislature

To the surprise of no one who's been keeping up with this (which is to say, this reporter), there is now legislation to change the state's sex education curriculum, and it's sponsored by Knoxville's own Rep. Bill Dunn.

In case you need a refresher course, here's what happened: Last fall, a Hardin Academy teacher forget to send home parental opt-out forms before a Planned Parenthood representative taught classes as part of the state's mandated family life curriculum. One Catholic teenager was upset by the information and told her mom, who got really upset and now has a lot of other people upset. In response, another group of parents started their own movement supportive of Planned Parenthood and non-abstinence-based sex ed in general. Both sides plan to have a big showdown at next Wednesday's school board meeting. (That's March 2 in the City-County Building at 5 p.m., and yes, we'll be there.)

The school district has maintained the position throughout the whole mess that they approved the Planned Parenthood curriculum because it meets state guidelines, and that if there's a problem, then it's something the state needs to deal with. And that's exactly what Dunn is trying to do with HB 1352. (It's also SB 1305, in case you're wondering, cosponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson of Franklin - not, surprisingly, Stacey Campfield.)

The bill's description is thus: "As introduced, implements an integrated sex education program in place of the family life curriculum and authorizes parents to maintain an action against an outside instructor or organization for teaching students about material prohibited by the curriculum guidelines." But when you dive into the whole nine pages, you find some curious language. For example:

(4) "Gateway sexual activity" means a sexual activity that increases the likelihood of an individual engaging in or that makes it difficult for an individual to avoid progression toward sexual intercourse;  

And:

(9) "Sexual activity" means sexual penetration or sexual contact, or both; 

(10) "Sexual contact" means any intentional touching of an erogenous zone of another, including, but not limited to, the thigh, genitals, buttock, pubic region, or, if the person is a female, breast, for the purpose of sexually arousing or gratifying either person; and 

(11) "Sexual penetration", means sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse, or any other intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person's body or of any object into the genital or anal opening of another person's body, but emission of semen is not required.  Sexual penetration does not include any lawfully performed medical procedure. 

Um, okay then. Now that we're clear on that ... although we're still pretty unclear as to what constitutes "gateway sexual activity." Is it kissing? Holding hands? Staring longingly into one another's eyes? Ogling that fine sophomore's hot ass when she walks down the hallway? Cheerleading uniforms?

In any case, the main intent of the legislation is to replace the state's current sex education with what Dunn terms "integrated sex education," as defined below:

(5) "Integrated sex education" means a comprehensive, abstinence-centered educational program that equips students with factually and medically accurate information, presents students with the health, economic and societal benefits of refraining from non-marital sexual activity, and encourages students to engage in self-regulation, goal-setting, and future orientation;  

The full details are laid out as follows:

(a) An integrated sex education curriculum shall, to the extent that the topic and the manner of communication is age-appropriate:  

(1) Exclusively and emphatically promote sexual risk avoidance through abstinence, regardless of a student's current or prior sexual experience;  

(2) Encourage sexual health by helping students understand the holistic nature of sexual activity and how sexual activity affects a person as a whole;  

(3) Teach the positive results of abstaining from sexual activity, the skills needed to make healthy decisions, the advantages of and skills for student success in pursuing educational and life goals, the components of healthy relationships, and the social science research supporting the benefits of reserving the expression of human sexual activity for marriage; 

(4) Provide factually and medically-accurate information; 

(5) Teach students how to form pro-social habits that enable students to develop healthy relationships, create strong marriages, and form safe and stable future families;  

(6) Encourage students to communicate with a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult about the advantages of abstaining from sex or other risk behaviors; 

(7) Assist students in learning and practicing sexual refusal skills;  

(8) Address the benefits of raising children within the context of a marital relationship and the unique challenges that teen parents encounter in relation to educational, psychological, physical, social, legal, and financial factors;   

(9) Discuss the interrelationship between premature sexual activity and exposure to other risk behaviors such as smoking, underage drinking, drug use, criminal activity, dating violence, and sexual aggression; 

(10) Educate students on the age of consent, puberty, teenage pregnancy, childbirth, sexually transmitted diseases, and the financial and emotional responsibility of raising a child; and 

(11) Teach students how to identify and form healthy relationships, and how to identify and avoid unhealthy relationships. 

(b) Instruction of the integrated sex education curriculum shall not:  

(1) Promote, implicitly or explicitly, any gateway sexual activity or health message that encourages students to consider sexual activity that remains within the technical definition of abstinence;

(2) Provide or distribute materials on school grounds that condone, encourage or promote student sexual activity among unmarried students; 

(3) Display or conduct demonstrations with devises manufactured specifically for sexual stimulation; or 

(4) Distribute contraception on school property; provided, however, medically-accurate information about contraception and condoms may be provided so long as it clearly informs students that while such methods may reduce the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases or becoming pregnant, only abstinence removes all risk. [Emphasis ours]

So here's where that fuzzy lack of a definition of "gateway sexual activity" becomes problematic - the legislation also specifically allows parents to sue teachers for promoting it. (Although it does limit the damages to $500.)
 
(1) A parent or legal guardian of a student present for any type of 
instruction by an instructor or organization that promotes gateway sexual 
activity or demonstrates sexual activity, as prohibited under this part, shall 
have a cause of action against that instructor or organization for actual 
damages plus reasonable attorney's fees and court costs; provided, 
however, this subdivision (b)(1) shall not apply to instruction by teachers 
employed by the LEA. 

We really aren't sure as what the chances are of this bill passing - or even advancing past committee stage. But we do hope some more explicitly-worded amendments get tacked on to it so we can blog about it.

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