Some local school administrators say it's unclear how a ban on teaching about "gateway sexual activity" would change sex-education lessons in their districts.
Some local school administrators say it’s unclear how a ban on teaching about “gateway sexual activity” would change sex-education lessons in their districts.
But the sponsor of the sex-education amendment, Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, acknowledges that the proposal, up for a House vote today, is “pretty much” an abstinence-only rule.
Under the amendment, instructors must not promote “ any gateway sexual activity or health message that encourages students to experiment with sexual activity.”
“I’m not sure how I would define it,” said Granville school Superintendent Jeff Brown.
Stephanie Kight, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, agreed that the term “gateway sexual activity” is ill-defined and difficult to understand.
“This amendment is like bad sex education,” Kight said. “What happens when you get bad sex education? You get bad health outcomes.”
A national group that promotes abstinence-only sex education has cited anecdotes of Ohio junior-high kids being taught that mutual masturbation and showering together are fine and that students as young as 10 were told that cuddling naked under a blanket is acceptable.
“ We received information from concerned parents throughout Ohio that have given us examples of curricula being taught that equate abstinence and sex with a condom as equally protective, that does not discourage sexual experimentation but instead focuses on condom games, and finding the quickest way to the clinic without parental supervision and knowledge,” said Valerie Huber of Johnstown, president/CEO of the National Abstinence Education Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group pushing abstinence education.
The amendment that Wachtmann added to the state budget bill on Tuesday would bar sex education that condones “gateway sexual activity” and allow parents to sue for up to $5,000 if their child receives such instruction.
“It will make sure that accurate, science-based information is taught in our schools about sex education, and that all the other, I would call them liberal agendas, are taken out if they’re there,” the Napoleon Republican said.
The amendment also prohibits demonstrations of “sexual stimulation” devices or distribution of contraception.
Bexley school Superintendent Mike Johnson said he had never heard of schools performing such demonstrations or discussing the other topics made taboo under the amendment.
“You have to assume that stuff’s actually going on in the schools to legislate it out,” Johnson said. “ Where’s that coming from? Beyond the biological description, I don’t know that sex ed goes beyond that.”
Huber’s group provided similar model legislation to Tennessee, which implemented the measure last year. She said a strength of Ohio’s law is that the definition of “gateway sexual activity” is taken straight out of the law for illegal sexual contact: “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.”
In Ohio, schools are not required to teach sex education. Ohio law now mandates only that health-education classes include instruction on sexually transmitted diseases with an emphasis on abstinence.
Some districts don’t delve into sex education, focusing mainly on sexually transmitted diseases. Others districts discuss sex and abstinence in general terms. Parents can remove their children from those lessons.
Health teachers and nurses in the Olentangy and Gahanna-Jefferson districts tell high-school students that there are different types of sex, but only to explain that some carry a risk of disease.
“They are not taught as alternatives to sex,” said Jack Fetty, the district curriculum director in Olentangy. If students have questions during that lesson that aren’t related to disease risk, teachers refer them to their parents, he said.
Republicans planned to meet behind closed doors last night to discuss their budget amendments.
“I’m confident that tonight there will be a full discussion of anything to do with sex,” House Speaker William G. Batchelder said with a laugh yesterday.
Wachtmann said the portion about fines “may need to be revamped.” But he included it because “I wanted to make a strong statement about the importance of this. And I think there’s a strong chance for noncompliance.”What others do
All states have policies for teaching sex education to public schoolchildren, dating to the 1970s because of concerns about AIDS and teen pregnancy. Although teen pregnancy is at an all-time low, sexual activity is not. In a 2011 national survey, 47 percent of high-school students said they had had sexual intercourse, and 15 percent had had sex with four or more partners. Among students who had sex in the three months before the survey, 60 percent reported using a condom, and 23 percent were taking birth-control pills during their last sexual encounter.
As of February:22 states, including Ohio, and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education. 33 states, including Ohio, and the District of Columbia say students must be taught about HIV/AIDS. Three states — Arizona, Nevada and Utah — require parental consent before a child can receive instruction. 35 states, including Ohio, and the District of Columbia allow parents to withhold their children from sex education.
Sources: National Conference of State Legislatures, Guttmacher Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Dispatch Reporter Jim Siegel contributed to this story.