Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tennessee's Newly Enacted Sex-education Bill

In Tennessee, a newly enacted sex-education bill, which takes an unabashedly pro-abstinence stance, prohibits public schools from promoting so-called "gateway sexual activity." Unfortunately, the grown-ups who argued in favor of the bill were too polite to define exactly what "gateway sexual activity" is, prompting the opposition to sneeringly dub the legislation "the no holding-hands bill."

What's fascinating to me is that the Nashville debate reveals in microcosm the confusion that reigns in the American political discussion about sexuality as a whole. To oversimplify, the Left thinks the Right are prudes and the Right thinks the Left are perverts. What both sides have in common, however, is they are far more comfortable with ambiguity than with clarity. And that's why neither camp is ready to have an honest discussion about sexuality.

Maybe it's a remnant of the Puritanical roots of this country's founders, but it seems that when it comes to all other forms of human behavior we Americans can at least agree about what it is we'redisagreeing about. Discussions of human sexuality, in contrast, are mostly left vague. Even the highest court in the land is famous for its shameful lack of clarity when it comes to the subject of s-e-x. As Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote in his 1964 opinion about the definition of pornography, "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."

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