The Métropolitain

Bristol Palin: walking lesson in sex education

By Dr. Laurie Betito on September 18, 2008

Becoming a grandmother at the age of 44 and watching your teenage daughter bring an unplanned pregnancy to term is no cause for celebration. But that’s exactly how Sarah Palin, John McCain and the Republicans are reacting to this unfortunate turn of events; they’re treating it as the joyful beginnings of a young, Christian family. Are they in denial or blinded by religious fanaticism or both?

In a tragically ironic illustration of the consequences that result from conservative sexual mores, it was revealed recently that Bristol Palin, the 17-year-old daughter of the Republican Party’s vice-presidential nominee, is pregnant. The father, Levi Johnston, is 18.

Both McCain and Palin are, of course, supporters of abstinence-only sex education. The philosophy behind this obsolete method of dealing with human sexuality is, essentially, the following: the only thing kids need to know about sex is that they shouldn’t be having it.

This may come as a shock to parents of teenagers everywhere who shy away from such taboo subjects at the dinner table: Your kids are horny and they, in all likelihood, will experiment. The question is, how are you going to deal with it?

The denial approach is, unfortunately, fairly common. Failing to see teens as sexual beings defies all logic because most parents will surely remember that hormonally-charged period in their own lives when they felt the need to rub up against everything that moved. It’s normal. It may not be pleasant to think about, let alone discuss with your kids, but it’s perfectly typical, healthy behaviour.

Bristol, one would assume, grew up in a highly conservative household that frowned upon fornication before marriage. Given her mother’s public statements about sex education, it’s also a safe assumption that she never had “the talk,” or any talk about her sexuality. Instead of learning about the birds and the bees, Bristol could very well have been told simply that premarital sexual relations would buy her a one-way ticket to Hell. How many adventurous teens would be eager to test that highly questionable theory?

Abstinence-only sex ed simply doesn’t work: there have been no proven links between it and a decrease in rates of sexual activity, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or teen pregnancy (in fact, some studies point to the total opposite result—an increase in risky behaviour). That is not to say, however, that abstinence in general is the wrong way to go; quite the contrary. It’s the only method that is guaranteed not to result in pregnancy or an STI. Abstinence needs to be taught in all schools as a part of a comprehensive outlook on human sexuality. But a realistic approach needs to be taken: regardless of religious beliefs, parents need to wake up and realize that their kids’ health is at risk when important information about their own bodies is being withheld. When in doubt, always err on the side of knowledge.

One in five teens do not use protection during their first time; many believe that a girl cannot get pregnant while losing her virginity. By the age of 20, nearly half of all young adults will not use condoms on a consistent basis. Cases of STIs, particularly Herpes and Chlamydia, are rising dramatically. Over 100,000 abortions are performed every year in Canada. These are troubling statistics. Not giving teens the means to reduce the risks that come with sexual activity is nothing short of irresponsible.

Every teen, when entering high school at the very latest, should be taught about their bodies in a frank and honest manner: How sex works, how to practice it safely, how to deal with the consequences and how to avoid it, if that’s their choice. Parents who believe they will figure it out on their own (or worse, learn from media) have their heads in the sand. Those who believe that sex education will give their kids ideas are misguided. And parents who believe that sex before marriage is unnatural are just on another planet altogether.

Conservative Americans, surprisingly, are not the only offenders when it comes to denying teens the crucial information they need to make informed decisions about sex; the Quebec government is lagging far behind many other provinces. There are no mandatory sex-ed courses and any information that teens are exposed to in the province’s public high schools will typically come from their English, Math or Biology teachers, who take it upon themselves to skim over the basics. The Charest government was all too eager to teach every Quebec child about world religions at the start of the current school year, but where is that same motivation to teach them about their own bodies?

Poor Bristol was not likely to ever have been given a pack of condoms, a prescription for the pill or taught how to properly plan for a family, and the results speak for themselves. Parents everywhere would be wise to use her as an example of what happens when questions aren’t answered and curiosity is not satisfied properly. The Palins’ so-called “family values” clearly haven’t gotten them very far; the lives of two teens have been turned upside down and it doesn’t seem likely that a eighteen year old will make a half-decent father. The real culprit is not the irresponsible twerp who couldn’t keep it in his pants; it’s the ongoing war between religion and sex. One is man-made and the other makes man.