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Let's (Not) Talk About Gateway Sexual Activity, Baby

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 5:49 PM

Mister Asta / Flickr

An amendment added to the state budget bill yesterday prohibits teachers from talking about any "gateway sexual activity" and directs them to emphasize abstinence in sex education.

Teachers who don't comply could be fined up to $5,000 if the measure passes.

So just what is "gateway sexual activity?"

House members deferred to the definition of "sexual contact" in the state's criminal code:

"Sexual contact" means any touching of an erogenous zone of another, including without limitation the thigh, genitals, buttock, pubic region, or, if the person is a female, a breast, for the purpose of sexually arousing or gratifying either person.

Last year Tennessee lawmakers passed a similar law. The state already had abstinence-only education, but lawmakers added a law that bans teaching "gateway sexual activity." Tennessee teachers who do not abide by that law could be fined $500.

Comedian Stephen Colbert took that opportunity to come up with his own definition of the term: "Kissing and hugging are the last stop before reaching Groin Central Station, so it's important to ban all the things that lead to the things that lead to sex."

The Ohio amendement also says teachers should:

  • teach that having kids out of wedlock could be bad for "the child, the child's parents, and society;"
  • emphasize adoption if someone does get pregnant before marriage;
  • not distribute condoms or other contraceptives on school property;
  • not conduct demonstrations with "devices specifically manufactured for sexual stimulation."

Mary Ann Mosack, national director for state initiatives for the National Abstinence Education Foundation, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer she's pleased with the move.

"It's a very, very, very wise preventative bill," said Mosack, who monitors sex education programs throughout the country. "Our legislature recognized that in students' classes they are being exposed to explicit sexual activities."

But the amendment has plenty of critics too.

"I think there will be a lot of health education teachers who might be disappointed in that it’s going to prevent teachers from giving essential knowledge to students and enable them to live in today’s world," says Steve Mitchell, Chair of the Ohio Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance and a professor at Kent State University. "Some might argue that the legislature is a little out of touch with the realities of children’s lives."

Ohio Representative Nicki Antonio (D-Lakewood) said in a statement that she thinks House Republicans have "gone too far."

"They are willing to legislate higher fines for condoning so-called 'gateway sexual activity,' like hand-holding, than some domestic violence or breaking and entering crimes," Antonio says.

And Jo Ingles of Ohio Public Radio reports that Kellie Copeland with NARAL Pro Choice Ohio says the amendment "sends Ohio back to 1950's thinking."

“Once again, this legislature is completely out of touch with Ohioans," Copeland told Ohio Public Radio.

Last year, the National Center for Health Statistics released a study that found that compared to abstinence-only sex education, comprehensive sex-ed programs were "associated with a 50% lower risk of teen pregnancy." Neither form of sex ed was "significantly associated with risk for an STD when compared to no sex education."

StateImpact Ohio has reached out to members of the Ohio House Finance Committee and will update this post when we hear back from them.

You can read the entire proposed amendment to the Ohio budget bill below.

[documentcloud url= format=normal sidebar=true ]

Note: A previous version of this story misstated that abstinence-only programs were associated with a lower risk of teen pregnancy, when the study cited found comprehensive sex-ed programs to have that effect. 

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