What the Heck Is “Gateway Sexual Activity”?

By , 19, Contributor
May 14, 2013

All across the country, more and more states have tried to pass laws trying to put a limit on what we can learn about our bodies and sexuality. The state of Ohio recently tried—and thankfully failed—to include an amendment to their state budget that would prevent sex ed teachers from discussing “gateway sexual activity.” The phrase “gateway sexual activity” really stuck with me. What is that?

When I first heard that phrase, I was reminded of sitting in D.A.R.E. class and how they taught us about “gateway drugs.” The theory is that “gateway drugs” like tobacco, alcohol and marijuana set you up for using hard drugs, the really scary ones like meth and heroin. The problem is that sex doesn’t work the same way. Sex isn’t some dangerous drug to steer clear from. It’s something just about everyone eventually does, and it’s a part of everyday life. Not discussing whatever might be a “gateway” to sex won’t prevent people—especially teens—from having it.

What’s more is that this phrase doesn’t actually mean anything. A gateway could be considered any activity that may eventually lead to sex, but are we really going to ban sex ed teachers from talking about appropriate hand-holding techniques? Silliness aside, behaviors like manual sex are some of the most common ways that adolescents and teenagers first engage in sexual contact, and not talking about them isn’t going to somehow magically stop teens from engaging in them or make them stay abstinent any longer. What teachers should be talking about are ways to be safe and make healthy, informed decisions about their own bodies.

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