Charita Goshay: Bristol Palin baby poses problem for critics of sex education
When it was revealed that Bristol Palin, 18, was pregnant by her boyfriend, Levi Johnston, 19, but that they intended to marry, the couple was vaunted by the family-values lobby as some kind of outback Romeo and Juliet. In reality, they were two ill-prepared, undereducated teens who probably were terrified by the prospect of having a baby before they could even have a drink.
Culture wars aside, Palin and Johnston are the only ones who have been honest about the situation. Last week, Johnston, a hockey-loving dropout with a penchant for brawling, told reporters what most of America already knew: He’s not ready to be a husband.
Today’s 19-year-old is not your newlywed grandpa. Contemporary teens are less mature than their great-grandparents because they can afford to be. In our understandable desire to spare them from harm, we practically shrink-wrap kids. Failure is not an option because we make sure they aren’t exposed to it. No one keeps score, but everybody gets a trophy!
Even Johnston seems to realize that while a pregnancy could be considered reason enough to marry, it is not. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that 48 percent of teens who marry will divorce in 10 years, compared to 24 percent of those who marry after 25.
Because Palin and Johnston aren’t yet jaded enough to try to spin their story, their candor is amazing. Shortly after giving birth, Palin contradicted her mother, Gov. Sarah Palin, who said in a 2006 survey that she's a proponent of abstinence education, by telling Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that while abstinence is the best option — she wished she had waited 10 years for motherhood — it is “not realistic at all.”
You could have heard a Pamper drop.
In theory, abstinence makes perfect sense for teens. It is a foolproof way to avoid unplanned pregnancy, STDs and the wreckage that occurs when a sexual relationship goes bad. An abstinent teen isn’t dogged by sexual gossip or worried about seamy, compromising photos eventually landing on the Internet.
Moreover, people who barely can keep their bedrooms clean have no business being in bed with each other.
There is, however, an inconvenient reality. Supporters of abstinence-only education must understand that unless it’s presented as a well-informed, even empowering option, and not as a cloak of self-righteousness, it won’t work. Why? Because abstinence goes against human nature. Sexual desire is hard-wired. The intimacy it offers is pleasurable; otherwise we wouldn’t write songs about it. To treat this desire as something alien and distinct from our humanity, like some monster lurking beneath the bed, is to be in denial.
Sex and guns
Sex education is not unlike a gun. Even if you hope your kid never lays eyes on a gun, let alone shoots one, every child should know beyond all doubt that a gun isn’t a toy, that mishandling a gun even once can change your life forever, that should they ever encounter a situation that involves a gun, there’s a proper way to handle it.
Most people stumble into their sexuality. Your son is not going to have his first encounter while puffing on a pipe and wearing a smoking jacket. It’s our job as adults to help teens understand the truth and the consequences of sex. If they opt for abstinence, all the better. If they don’t, they ought to at least know the facts.