I’ve been reading other blogs and news stories centering on the revelation that vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. As I previously stated, I have nothing but sympathy for Palin’s daughter who certainly didn’t ask to be shoved into this spotlight.
However, I confess that I don’t have much sympathy for Gov. Palin. I find her to be hypocritical, and contradictory in her beliefs. She has chosen to become a public figure; her daughter is off limits, but Palin is fair game. She chose to be in the spotlight.
Gov. Palin touts herself as pro-life, as if the other position is pro-death. I’ve never heard anyone speak in support of abortion, but I have heard and I have made the argument that it is a personal decision to choose what to do with one’s own body. I don’t see this as a simple decision and I worry about the consequences of the choices that women make, but I cannot accept that the larger society has the right to force a woman to take a pregnancy to term. I don’t expect that everyone will agree and I respect your right to hold a different point of view. That’s your choice, but you don’t get to make the choice for others. That’s the big difference between the pro-life position and the pro-choice position. The pro-life view makes the decision for everyone; the pro-choice decision says it is a private matter and an individual decision. Advocates for pro-choice have never told anyone that she must have an abortion; but advocates for pro-life want to have the right to tell every woman what she must do with her body, should she become pregnant.
My digression into a discussion about choice, doesn’t mean that I would advocate that Palin’s daughter have an abortion. I don’t believe in abortion; I believe in choice. She gets to choose whether or not to carry the pregnancy to term. (At least, I’d like to believe that she gets to make her own choice.)
However, my rant today isn’t really about Palin’s hypocrisy. I am more interested in the larger issue of a society that as a whole chooses to behave like the ostrich when it comes to deal with adolescents and sex.Sticking your head in the sand only results in getting sand up your nose.
From what I’ve gathered from the available information on Palin, she supports the teaching of abstinence only in the schools. I’m all for discouraging adolescents from engaging in sexual activity, but I don’t think that simply telling them “don’t do it” is an effective or responsible approach.
In my home state, for several years schools were only allowed to teach abstinence only in public school sex education classes. After concerns about the increased teenage pregnancy rate and the rise in sexually transmitted diseases, the law was modified to allow school systems to present the question to the parents–to teach a full sex ed course, including birth control and how to prevent STDs, or to continue to teach abstinence only. Regrettably, most parents gave a clear message to their school systems that they wanted to continue with teaching abstinence only. I say regrettably, because the result is that a great many adolescents are sexually active and sexually ignorant. Teaching abstinence doesn’t guarantee that they won’t engage in sexual activity, but it does guarantee that should they engage in sexual activity, they won’t have a clue as to how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and STDs.
Think back to your own teenage years, did you choose to engage in or not engage in sexual activity based on whether or not you were exposed to a comprehensive sex ed curriculum? There is no statistical support to show that that teaching abstinence only causes teenagers to choose not to have sex, nor any evidence that teaching a fully realized sex ed curriculum causes teens to run out and become sexually active. However, not teaching teens about the consequences of unprotected sex does correlate with high rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
I have intentionally used the term sexual activity, because many adolescents consider that anything short of vaginal intercourse is not really sex. Not really surprising as we have some well-known adults who have expressed similar beliefs.
When I taught high school, after a year with a record number of teen pregnancies, one of my colleagues and I had an informal rap session with some of the teen mothers. I still recall with dismay the misinformation that I heard from those young girls. Beliefs such as standing up after sex could prevent pregnancy, and douching with coca-cola was an effective method of contraception. There was also one young lady who shared that she was on the pill but got pregnant nonetheless. Upon further questionning, she explained that she took her birth control pill every time she had sex. She missed the directions about taking it daily.
However, I was totally unprepared for the widely shared belief that oral sex wasn’t really sex, and was regarded as safe, because it couldn’t result in pregnancy. A report on teenage sexual activity released a couple of years ago reported that anal sex had risen in popularity with teens because it also didn’t result in pregnancy. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) didn’t appear to factor into the equation for the teens. Engaging in sexual activity isn’t rocket science and adolescents are definitely not scientists.
There is substantive research to support that effective parenting is the factor that has the most relevance in influencing the age at which an adolescent engages in his or her first sexual experience (once the barn door is opened, it is rarely closed tight again). That’s where family values play a role. Not the kind of family values that conservative websites spout on about, but family values centered in honest dialogue among parents and children about distinguishing love from sex, about dealing with those desires and feelings that are a natural part of growing up, and about making choices that are in your best interest.
The video is from the 1968 movie of Romeo and Juliet, teenagers who risked all for the passion of young love. The song is What Is a Youth?, similar in melody to the theme song of the film, A Time for Us.