Tennessee doesn’t even want kids to hold hands until marriage


While Gov. Walker was signing a shitty new abstinence-only bill, the Tennessee legislature was quietly outdoing everyone. Last week, the state updated its abstinence-only curriculum to ensure that teachers don’t encourage teh sexytimes with all their wanton hand-holding:

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.

The bill gives parents “a cause of action” so they can sue any teacher that breaks the rules by “demonstrating gateway sexual activity” and also bans the distribution of materials “that condone, encourage or promote student sexual activity among unmarried students” (why do I have the feeling we’re talking about condoms and not porn here?)

Apparently, this comes in response to recent controversies where students received some sex education that mentioned alternatives to sexual intercourse. Honestly, I thought that kind of thing was standard in abstinence-only programs. I thought even advocates of abstinence until marriage recognized that if you’re telling students who’ve likely already started having sex (and in Memphis, for example, 61 percent high school students and 27 percent of middle school students have) to stop, it’s nice to provide some suggestions on safer alternatives. Even if it’s just something as clearly inferior to sex as fucking hand-holding.

But no, the bill’s sponsor says, “‘Abstinence’ means from all of these activities, and we want to promote that.”

Pic via Thinkprogress

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/mathiastolerain/ Matt

    You know, for a long time it seems that the sort of “prevailing standard argument” against a lot of abstinence programs/anti-sex programs had a component of “embracing human nature.”

    As far as debate is concerned, this particular component always seemed more like a “frame.” A way to begin my side of the conversation by saying that I view safe/consensual expressions of adult sexuality as a “natural” (or at least an inescapable/given) thing.

    Well, now it is a direct counter-argument. The only reason for this new rule/law would be to try and legislate away not only the human sex drive, but the human drive to make any physical attraction with someone one is attracted to (in this case the opposite gender since I doubt they wrote in provisions for anything but).

  • http://feministing.com/members/polkadotpeony/ Jen Henry

    At first I laughed at this … because DUH. But then I really thought about it. In a culture in which staggering numbers of children are raped (not even to speak of the adults who are raped), how are children ever supposed to learn how to set healthy boundaries when hand-holding and kissing – activities in which parents regularly partake in healthy relationships with their small children – are coded as pre-sex activities? I realize this curriculum will be for older children, children who are probably not as affectionate with their parents as they once were, but what a complete mindf*ck.

  • http://feministing.com/members/blueeyes90/ blueeyes90

    “In a new family life instructions bill, holding hands and kissing could be considered gateways to sex.”

    ARE YOU SERIOUS?!!!

  • http://feministing.com/members/tashabunny/ natasha

    I have encountered similar stuff with Christians I’ve known. Some see hugging as too tempting, so they teach kids to have a side hug, so as not to press their bodies together too much. I’ve met people who think that couples shouldn’t be left alone for any amount of time until they are married. Obviously, people should make their own choices, and if this is what they choose to do, that’s great. But I’d worry about pushing that onto all of the kids, without any balance of learning about other options.

  • http://feministing.com/members/robbieloveslife/ Robert

    The GOP supports a lot of controversial things but this is one that should never be an issue. Teens are going to have sex anyway no matter what you tell them and it’s not like this is a crime. Sex is natural assuming all parties give consent. It’s best that teens be informed on sexual diseases and how to avoid pregnancy. This also opens the door for discussing sexual violence.

  • http://feministing.com/members/brittforbes93/ Brittany

    Guys, Kif Kroker got pregnant from hand holding! It’s not funny!

    But yes, holding hands and kissing are gateways to sex. So is smiling, saying “I like you”, flirting and looking at each other.

    • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

      Obviously hand-holding-abstinence education is the only way to prevent teen smizmarism?

  • http://feministing.com/members/gemski/ QuantumInc

    They took the overwhelming evidence that Abstinence only doesn’t work and though “Well we’re not trying hard enough! How can we do SUPER Abstinence ONLY??” The idea that maybe they were wrong on any level never crosses their mind.

    Regardless on one’s stance on abstinence until marriage, it’s obvious they never wanted the children to decide for themselves. They don’t really want the adults to decide either. They COULD just give the kids a list of reasons for doing it this way, explain the thinking behind keeping sex strictly within marriage. However a reasonably smart and assertive person could conceivably decide they have their own worldview and values and still say NO. Really they would probably get more kids to stay virgins throughout school if they did in fact teach them as if they trusted them, but clearly they would rather shoot for the moon and look for ways to FORCE EVERYBODY.

    Seriously though, what level of intimacy are the non-married allowed? Are hugs only allowed within the confines of a nuclear family? Does the term “high school sweetheart” mean anything to you? The ultimate form of this logic seems to be arranged marriages where the fiancees are barred from being in the same room until they’re walking down the aisle.

  • http://feministing.com/members/miriamclaire/ Miriam

    ?!?!?!? Hand holding?! HAND HOLDING?! Are people just not allowed to be affectionate towards each other anymore? Shall we ban hugs and any and all touch of any kind? This is real??

  • http://feministing.com/members/toph/ Christoph

    So basically these Tennessee politicians want to enforce a ‘moral code’ stricter than the Victorians’?

  • http://feministing.com/members/skoelle/ Spencer Koelle

    I have a vast folder of reaction images, and none of them are quite up to this task. @_@

    By Dionysus’s throbbing penis, what the frell is wrong with these people?

  • http://feministing.com/members/skoelle/ Spencer Koelle

    No, wait. I think I’ve figured this out. The right wingers are trying to be as outrageous as possible in the hopes that democrats will “meet them halfway”, like somebody starting with an insultingly low bid at a fish market. If they start out with something this crazy, they figure the dems will let them bring back anti-sodomy laws.

  • http://feministing.com/members/acstudent1/ morgan

    Tennesse doesn’t want kids to hold hands until marriage…I’m assuming this means heterosexual young couples. What about homosexual couples? I wonder how Tennesse would feel about that. How are kids supposed to learn and explore themselves? This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. Maybe they should ban smiling too, and hugging…

  • http://feministing.com/members/gabrielle1029/ Gabrielle

    Sadly, this isn’t really news to me. I attended middle school (in New York, no less!) and in my 7th grade health class, our teacher warned us about how kissing led to sex and told us about how she had been punished by her parents after being caught kissing a boy on the cheek in 6th grade. She said that they were justified in being upset because she was engaged in “sexual behavior.” It’s ridiculous…

  • http://feministing.com/members/acstudent1/ morgan

    There is no way the state can regulate this. How are they supposed to find out if people are holding hands? I guess in a public setting it may be noticeable if a couple are holding hands, but what if they are alone.. how will any one know that they UH OH are holding hands?

  • http://feministing.com/members/acstudent1/ morgan

    In my women’s studies class we did a project where we had to get an ad that was sexist, demeaning women, or something along those lines. This ad kind of reminds me of that project, accept this ad is way worse than any that I have seen. I can’t believe a company could possibly think this was an acceptable advertisement.

    In what way, shape, or form is concept of date rape funny? The fact that the man in the background is smiling makes me even more mad, clearly he’s never been capable of being with a woman ever if this is what he has to resort to.

    / The apology that was made was complete bullshit. If you promote safe and responsible drinking then why would you EVER use that as an advertisement? Date rape isn’t safe or responsible.

  • http://feministing.com/members/kaitlincrawford/ Kaitlin

    This is stupid. The fact that they say kids can’t hold hands is just going to make kids want to get married the second they can so they can then do whatever they want. As well as they are going to continue to do whatever they want anyway. Kids don’t have a problem breaking rules especially when it has to do with having sex and doing sexual things. They will start to have sex and then tell their parents and ask for help to get birth control or something like that. Most of the time when teens are first telling their parents that they have sex is when they are telling them that they are pregnant. Yes, that is a problem but banning kids from holding hands and kissing isn’t going to help them at all to stop having sex. It is like telling someone to not look down when crossing a bridge. That then becomes the first thing that they do. It is the whole sense that it is not allowed that makes it so much funner to do. This isn’t going to stop them and is only going to cause more problems between people. There will be so much fighting and so many problems. This will only make things worse.

  • http://feministing.com/members/acstudent1/ morgan

    I would also like to point out, what about couples who are “common law” and have been together for so long but have decided to not get married? Are they not allowed to hold hands either?

    If your common law with a partner and you share everything you own, live together, etc… but you are not allowed to hold hands? I think there is a problem there. This potential “law” is a waste of time and thought. It will never be able to prove itself, ever.