Gateway Sexual Activities

The Tennessee Law Controversy

Not too long ago, the Governor of the State of Tennessee signed into law a bill that prohibits teachers from talking about so-called “Gateway Sexual Activities” such as kissing, hand-holding, and genital touching when teaching sex education in Tennessee schools.


Debunking Misconceptions About Sexual Behavior

According to state Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, in his testimony to the Tennessee House of Representatives, “Everybody in this room knows what gateway sexual activity is,” “Everybody knows there are certain buttons when you push them, certain switches when you turn them on, there’s no stopping, especially for undisciplined, untrained, untaught and unraised children who just want to feel affection from somebody or anybody.”  I have many problems with his uninformed — or at best misinformed — statement.


The Reality of Consent and Self-Control

“there’s no stopping”??  Total bullshit.  This feeds rape culture I believe.  That AND the misconception that men (and/or women) cannot control themselves once they find themselves in a turned-on situation.  Bullshit.  We all CAN stop.  Everyone can and should be able to think about what they are doing AND how they feel about it.  To do or think otherwise is ridiculous.  One can’t even call it animalistic because it isn’t; “The animal world is full of species that have sex only during widely spaced intervals when the female is ovulating.… an excessively horny monkey is acting “human,” while a man or woman uninterested in sex more than once or twice a year would be, strictly speaking, “acting like an animal.” (C. Ryan, Sex at Dawn, p. 85).   As you can see, this is totally the opposite of what people think when they say people who engage in sex whenever, wherever without stopping are animals.  We need to teach about permission.  We need to teach about boundaries (and that we all have them) and how to give and obtain consent from our friends and others.


Flaws in the Abstinence-Only Approach

“especially for the undisciplined, untrained, untaught…”??  Um, Mr. DeBerry, that’s completely the fault of the Abstinence Only Before Marriage approach.  How are children disciplined, trained, or taught if no one in the education system in the State of Tennessee can talk about these things?  We need to teach about feelings, emotions, and how to communicate the same to others.   We need to teach about respect for self and others.


Understanding Adolescent Sexuality

“just want to feel affection from somebody”??  We all want to be loved.  We all want to be accepted.  Lots of people like to be held close. Yet we live in a society that sexualizes most forms of touch.  I fear we are developing a touch deprived generation.  Lots of teachers in the elementary school level express concern about hugging their pupils – especially men – for fear of being accused of inappropriate touch; This is so sad because a few bad apples shouldn’t spoil the whole bunch.  Not every teacher hug of a student is a gateway sexual activity — or are these the “certain buttons when you push them, certain switches when you turn them on” Mr DeBerry is talking about <sarcasm>.  We do need to teach about pleasure and the healing power of touch – and that it’s not just sexual pleasure.


The Need for Comprehensive Sexual Education

Teens are going to do what they are going to do mainly because they don’t see the reasons not to engage sexually the same way adults do.  Their adolescent brains are not fully developed to see the potential consequences and/or risks that we adults see.  Teens think those bad things won’t happen to me, they happen to someone else – think back…was that the way YOU thought as a teen?  Why should teens now be any different?


It is exactly the reasons Mr. DeBerry gives that justify accurate, open, and honest comprehensive sexual education.  I’m just not sure why he and other Abstinence Only proponents don’t see that.



The MamaSutra

(c) 2012 The MamaSutra

About the Author

The MamaSutra

Dr. Lanae St.John is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sexology and certified sex coach with a background in sexology and a passion for helping people improve their sexual health and relationships. She is the author of "Read Me: A Parental Primer for "The Talk"" and the upcoming "You Are the One: How stopping the search and looking inside will lead you to your romantic destiny," and is committed to staying up-to-date on the latest research and trends in the field. Dr. St.John aims to share her knowledge and expertise in a relatable and approachable way through her blog on

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