In the wake of some recent controversial sexual education demonstrations in the classroom, one that actually involved a sex toy, the state of Tennessee has now passed the strictest pro-abstinence sex education law in the nation.

The law, which hinders educators from encouraging supposed “gateway sexual activity,” is being labeled the “no holding hands bill” by its critics simply because backers of the pro-abstinence sex education law have not been able to give any real indication as to exactly what the law encompasses.

According to experts, the key missing ingredient from this heated debate is whether the law signed by Republican Governor Bill Haslam last month will really assist in reducing Tennessee’s high teenage pregnancy rate, or will it simply leave teens without the proper sexual education required to aid in the deterrence of pregnancy and disease.

A report by the state Commission on Children and Youth argues, that while Tennessee’s teen pregnancy rate is among the highest in the nation, those figures have been in steady decline since the initial abstinence focused sexual education curriculum was put in place in the 1990s. In 2009, there were 29.6 pregnancies per 1,000 girls, which is down from a rate of 48.2 in 1998.

Supporters of the legislation suggest that the bill is being characterized inaccurately. “It’s not abstinence-only education,” said Nashville Republican Jim Gotto. “I’m so sick of people trying to spin it as that – because they don’t like it. The law does specify that the curriculum has to be abstinence-focused, but they can talk about contraception.”

While pro-abstinence advocates argue that refraining from sexual activity is the most dependable method to prevent pregnancy and sexual transmitted disease, the new sex education law now uses the criminal statute on sexual assault to specify acts – such as groping or fondling – that fall under “gateway sexual activity.”

If such incidents do occur, a parent can sue and a fine of at least $500 can be executed.

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