“Is it November yet?” — Bristol Palin edition

I’m getting really tired of all the blog comments I’m seeing to the effect that people feel sorry for Bristol Palin because her mother obviously is forcing her to have that child, or that somehow this is what Sarah Palin gets for opposing abortion (because if she didn’t, Bristol would have “taken care of it” in secret, apparently). If you call yourself pro-choice, acknowledge the possibility that people who are not you might not actually want abortions, even when you think they should.

Also, I’m seeing a lot of crowing about the teenage daughter of a sex-ed opponent becoming pregnant. I’m about as pro-sex-ed as they get, but I have a lot of problems with that. First of all, I’d like to think we’re above scoring political points on the back of a 17-year-old who’s going through the hardest time of her life. Barack Obama agrees. Second, we have no idea what the Palins taught their kids about sex. We know that Sarah Palin doesn’t want kids to get “explicit” sex ed in public schools. She may believe that kids shouldn’t learn anything about sex except “save it for marriage”, or she may believe that the most appropriate place for discussions of sex and contraception is the home. We don’t know.

Besides, nobody ever claimed that either abstinence-only or comprehensive sex ed was a foolproof method of preventing teen pregnancy. Kids who’ve had comprehensive sex ed sometimes make babies too, and I wouldn’t want abstinence-only advocates using every one of them as a club to promote their agenda.

The argument for comprehensive sex ed is that people deserve complete and accurate information about their bodies, and that information will help (not compel) them to make healthy decisions. That’s true no matter what kind of instruction the unfortunate daughter of a high-profile politician may have received.

7 thoughts on ““Is it November yet?” — Bristol Palin edition

  1. Abstinence-only programs don’t work. All they do is make it more likely that the sex the teenager has is secretive and that he/she will not know how to use contraception or how to get it. This is a pro-life concern. It has to do with reducing unwanted pregnancies — and reducing abortions.

    This has nothing to do with Bristol Palin but a great deal to do with Sarah Palin and the attitude of the Republican conservative base on sex ed. One can’t not point it out — and one doesn’t have to say anything bad about Bristol in the process. The Republican base is in favor of keeping contraceptive information and education away from teenagers. What better refutation than their own vice presidential candidate having a daughter getting pregnant at 17?

    It is certain that the right wing (and the press) would go after Obama hammer and tong if something like this happened in his family. Why are we liberals so eager to unilaterally disarm?

  2. Great post, Jen – both programs work sometimes, and both programs fail sometimes. In five years, the whole debate will be moot because the Internet saturation among young people will have reached the point where they will get the information from the Internet.

  3. Excuse me, I’ll just be over here curled up in a corner and hyperventilating at the thought of my daughter getting her sex education from the Internet.

    Sorting through everything on the Internet and telling reputable information from rubbish is hard enough for adults — we certainly don’t want to make our kids’ educations dependent on their ability to do the same. Sure, they can and should get some information from the net, but first they need to have a grounding both in the basic facts and in critical examination of information sources. So no, I think this debate is far from moot, because plenty of people don’t want the former to be taught and I’m not sure schools have quite figured out *how* to teach the latter yet.

  4. The Internet may have some things to offer, but I don’t think it’s a huge step up from information that’s been out there for decades already. I got most of my sex ed from fashion magazines like Glamour in the mid-1980s. The information was accurate but highly biased. These magazines were (and tend to still be) very pro-abortion, and sex was treated as a form of liberation and recreation–which sounded great at the time, but now that I’m 20 years older and the mother of two daughters, I want my kids to think that sex is more than just have-a-good-time-just-don’t-get-pregnant.

    And I think that is what a lot of people who object to sex ed are really concerned about. They aren’t worried about their children having the facts; they’re worried about the morality that will be taught along with the facts. And yes, you can say it’s up to the family to instill the values while the schools simply provide the facts, but it’s very difficult to get away from various agendas that go hand in hand with those facts.

    A few years ago I went to a public meeting in our town held by a group that wants to establish comprehensive sex ed in the public schools. I went thinking I supported their efforts 100% and left feeling very uncertain about this group and even sex ed in general.

    To begin with, a representative from PP opened the meeting (hardly reassuring). Teen parenthood was utterly disparaged with no discussion of how already-parenting teens might be brought into the discussion without being made to feel that they had “ruined their lives.” Concerns about how abortion would be approached in the classroom were dismissed as “a religious difference that we have to be respectful of.” And the condescending attitude toward teens in general was that they were horny little devils who can’t help having sex so we may as well at least make sure they don’t get pregnant/catch STDs in the process. I don’t want these particular people teaching my kids about sex and I can’t blame anyone else for feeling the same way.

    I would love to see really good sex ed established in the schools but I’d personally like to see it move away from teenagers having/not having sex and more toward lifetime sexuality education that included pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. Much more comprehensive; much less controversial.

  5. I think really comprehensive sex ed would not only cover the life cycle; it would deal openly and thoroughly with the various values disputes over sexual and reproductive issues, and enable people holding the different views to come in and speak for themselves why they believe as they do. It would also encourage parent/family involvement in the learning process. This way, kids could have a pretty good shot at making up their own minds and making their own decisions.

    And–it should start way, way before adolescence!
    But, hey, what do I know, I’m just one of those antichoice, forced-motherhood, sex-negative, let’s-kill-all-the-born-kids-and-women harpies…..

  6. One thing I have not seen addressed in the abstinence v. comprehensive sex ed debate (FWIW, I am in favor of comprehensive sex ed) is this:

    Would the areas prone to want abstinence-only or abstinence-first/everything else barely mentioned sex ed be liable to have cultural mores that tolerate/favor teen/early 20s motherhood? This, I think would be a far, far, far stronger than what is discussed for 15-60 hours in school.

    In most parts of the abstinence belt, early marriage and motherhood is not stigmatized. The kids who enter the military or the workforce get married between 18 and 22, and the kids who went to college get married between 22 and 26. Kids are expected to come 1-3 years after marriage.

    On the other hand, in the suburban/urban areas where a comprehensive sex ed approach is favored, families are smaller. Teen/early 20s motherhood is seen as a complete disaster.

    Folks who marry under 25 are seen as somewhat of an aberration (The Washington Post ran an article on younger mothers, i.e. those under 26-27, a few months ago.) Kids generally show up in the mid 30s or even later.

    I was 24, my wife was 21 when we got married, and people just assumed we HAD to be expecting. (For the record, I was 31 and my wife 29 when we had our first.)

    My point is this — the results of abstinence only and comprehensive sex education programs probably reflect the values of the localities liable to adopt those programs.

  7. This may be true for whites. But in the urban, majority black community where I live, comprehensive sex ed and contraception are much encouraged, and even though teen pregnancy is not encouraged, it’s not considered the end of the world. There is even a distinct pattern among many women of having kids young (while not necessarily marrying) then finishing their educations.

    I had my kid and married in my early 20s and became a grandma at 45. Where I live, it’s my white skin that sticks out, not this pattern of reproduction. On the other hand, among the highly educated, mostly welloff whitefolks I know from going to school, the skin blends in but the pattern of reproduction is aberrant. The judgments and assumptions fly.

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