By Jerica Phillips
MEMPHIS - Tennessee senators approved an update to the state's abstinence-based sex education law that includes warnings against "gateway sexual activity."
In a new family life instructions bill, holding hands and kissing could be considered gateways to sex. Planned Parenthood said that allowing state government to define local sex education curriculum could backfire.
According to a 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Study, 61 percent of Memphis City high school students and 27 percent of middle school students have had sex. That's higher than the national average.
Planned Parenthood said these numbers are why a new sex education bill promoting abstinence is not realistic.
"If the state of Tennessee gets to create the curriculum, it has to create something that umbrella reflects everyone," said Planned Parenthood Director of Education Elokin CaPese.
Tennessee House Bill 3621 and Senate Bill 3310 are currently up for debate.
In the bill, a uniformed policy on sex education is defined with terms like "gateway sexual activity." Also listed are statewide instructions on how to teach family life curriculum.
"It's not detailed enough in a health-based way," said CaPese.
The bill prohibits teachers from demonstrating gateway sexual activity. CaPese said that would include health education models.
"It makes it very clear that you can't promote contraception," said CaPese.
If an instructor goes beyond the curriculum, the bill gives parents more legal rights, stating, "The parent or legal guardian shall have a cause of action against the instructor or organization for actual damages."
"They can opt out, and that means that parents already have the power that we want them to have," said CaPese.
The bill goes before the House Education Committee next Tuesday.