- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009




Is abstinence “realistic”? According to a rash of headlines, Gov. Sarah Palin’s 18-year-old daughter, Bristol Palin, says “no.” Thus (the media gleefully report) the young thing repudiates her famous mother’s conservative values while speaking to Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren.

What Bristol actually said went more like this:

Greta: “Do you have a philosophical or religious opposition to (contraception)?”

Bristol: “No I don’t want to get into detail about that - I think abstinence is, like, the … I don’t know how to put it, like … the main - everyone should be abstinent or whatever, but it’s not realistic at all.”

Greta: “Why?”

Bristol: “Because it’s more and more accepted now … among kids my age.”

(Note: I wonder if Bristol really thinks sexual virtue is harder these days than it was, say, 30 years ago when her mom and I were teenagers. That would be circa 1979. I could tell Bristol some stories - the sexual revolution has been swinging pretty hard for a good long time now.)

Greta ask: “How do you change that?”

Bristol: “To see stories like this, and to see other stories of teen moms. … You should just wait 10 years; it would be so much easier.”

Of course the “not realistic” comment that blared across the headlines was only a stray comment by Bristol in the middle of a long interview. The headline vultures descended upon it because the “A-word” causes so many people to snort, see red and charge into battle against the bare idea that chastity is even a possibility for teens (or anyone else). We all know that sexual passion is difficult to constrain and direct. But there is something strangely dehumanizing about the way so many adults are so eager to insist that sexual self-control is actually impossible.

That, of course, was not Bristol’s purpose. She wanted to emerge on national TV as an advocate against teen pregnancy.

“It’s so much easier if you’re married, and if you have a house and career. … It’s not a situation you want to strive for,” the teen mom said.

But the headlines and the interview make clear that Bristol, perhaps, did not achieve her goal

For one thing, there’s that darn baby looking so cute on TV, and the young mother apparently unfazed by it all.

Then there’s her mom, the governor of Alaska, dropping by the TV studio to sing Bristol’s praises: Bristol is “a strong and bold young woman, and she’s an amazing mom. … We’re very proud of Bristol.”

Mrs. Palin goes so far as to suggest that, so long as the babies and their young moms are taken care of by families - “five generations” of Palins are helping Bristol out - and not by government, then well maybe it’s not really anybody’s business.

Despite Bristol’s best intentions (and I don’t doubt her sincerity), it’s pretty hard to emerge from the interview asking hard questions about teen motherhood. And the subject of being married - rather than merely old - before having a baby doesn’t seem to really come up.

I don’t know if abstinence is “realistic.” I do know that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2002, 31 percent of girls Bristol’s age (18 and 19) had never had sexual intercourse. In fact, almost one out of 10 adults between 20 and 30 has abstained from sex. Abstinence-until-marriage is definitely not statistically “normal” behavior in this day and age (nor was it when I was a teen), but does that make it “unrealistic”?

I don’t know. But watching Bristol speak raises for me another more pressing question: Is it really wise for an entire society to adopt the point of view of the average inarticulate 18-year-old kid?

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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