State Sex Education Policies and Requirements at a Glance
Certain Tennessee schools are required to teach only abstinence through “family life education”.
- Local education agencies (LEAs) in Tennessee counties whose pregnancy rate exceeds 19.5 pregnancies per 1,000 females ages 15–17 are required to develop and implement a family life education program promoting “sexual risk avoidance” and prohibiting “gateway sexual activity”.
- Curriculum is not required to include instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Curriculum is not required on affirmative consent
- Parents and guardians must be notified at least 30 days prior to commencing any instruction involving sexual orientation or gender identity and are able to remove their children from sex education instruction upon written request. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
- Curriculum must be medically accurate.
- Educators who violate the “Gateway Law”, which prohibits family life education programs and sex education courses from including instruction on “gateway sexual activity” that encourages youth to engage in “non-abstinent behavior”, could face punitive measures including a $500 fine.
Tennessee law (§ 49-6-1302, 49-6-1304, and 49-6-1305) requires local education agencies to develop and implement a family life education program. These programs must promote “sexual risk avoidance” as their primary goal, and instruction that promotes “gateway sexual activity” is prohibited. Statute § 49-6-1304 was recently amended to include “provid[ing] instruction on the detection, intervention, prevention, and treatment of child sexual abuse, including such abuse that may occur in the home” as a required topic in family life curricula.
If such family life education programs are provided, they must:
- Emphatically promote sexual risk avoidance through abstinence, regardless of a student’s current or prior sexual experience;
- Encourage sexual health by helping students understand how sexual activity affects the whole person, including the physical, social, emotional, psychological, economic, and educational consequences of non-marital sexual activity;
- Teach the positive results of avoiding sexual activity, the skills needed to make healthy decisions, the advantages of and skills for student success in pursuing educational and life goals, the components of healthy relationships, and the social science research supporting the benefits of reserving the expression of human sexual activity for marriage;
- Provide factually and medically accurate information;
- Teach students how to form pro-social habits that enable students to develop healthy relationships, create strong marriages, and form safe and stable future families;
- Encourage students to communicate with a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult about sex or other risk behaviors;
- Assist students in learning and practicing refusal skills that will help them resist sexual activity;
- Address the benefits of raising children within the context of a marital relationship and the unique challenges that single teen parents encounter in relation to educational, psychological, physical, social, legal, and financial factors;
- Discuss the interrelationship between teen sexual activity and exposure to other risk behaviors such as smoking, underage drinking, drug use, criminal activity, dating violence, and sexual aggression;
- Educate students on the age of consent, puberty, pregnancy, childbirth, sexually transmitted diseases [STDs], including but not limited to human immunodeficiency virus [HIV]/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome [AIDS], and the financial and emotional responsibility of raising a child;
- Teach students how to identify and form healthy relationships, and how to identify and avoid unhealthy relationships;
- Inform students, in all [schools], concerning the process of adoption and its benefits; and
- Provide instruction on the detection, intervention, prevention, and treatment of child sexual abuse, including such abuse that may occur in the home.
Tennessee Code allows students to be removed from sex education classes upon written request from their parent or guardian. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
Beginning in the 2021-2022 school year, according to Public Chapter 290, a local education agency (LEA) must adopt and implement a family life education curriculum aligned with legal guidelines for such a program.
State Profiles provided by SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change. For more information regarding your state’s sex ed policy, visit https://siecus.org/state_profile/tennessee-state-profile-23/