Sex educators re-imagining relationships with youth : defensive and liberatory responses to stigma

Tennessee has used an abstinence-only policy since 1991. The state amended the legislation in 2012 with the Gateway Sexual Activity Act, which makes it difficult for educators to discuss any aspect of sexuality aside from abstinence. I consider how regulations set by the Gateway Act obscure conditions with consequences for youth sexuality. I use interpretive policy analysis to closely read the language of the text against itself. My analysis focuses on themes of conformity, choosing abstinence, stigmatizing pleasure, denying sexual subjectivity, viewing puberty through a gendered biological reductionist perspective, and avoiding risk. I argue the Gateway Sexual Activity Act is an example of state-level sexuality education policy that perpetuates social marginalization by not fostering an environment hospitable to conversations about social disparities and youth empowerment.