In Her Words
What I Want My Daughter to Know about Bristol Palin
It isn’t really about sex
As news of Bristol Palin’s breakup with fiancé Levi Johnston fans the flames of the never-ending debate about sex education, my thoughts keep turning to Sarah. I wonder if she wishes she could go back and do things differently. Would she offer something in addition to abstinence education? Will she change what she says to Willow and Piper?
As a mother, I think about what I will tell my young daughter about the millions of teenagers like Bristol Palin who get pregnant before they’re ready. What will I be able to say to prevent her from joining the statistics?
And when I start imagining “the talk” we’ll have, I realize that very little of it will actually have to do with sex. It will be more about the need for self confidence, an inner strength and the ability to say no to things she isn’t ready to do, to not want to please someone so badly that she’ll do something she knows is risky to earn or keep their love – whether that’s to have unsafe sex, to take drugs or to stay with someone who demeans or abuses her.
Because while abstinence advocates and those who want a condom on every banana can debate sex education philosophies all they want, I don’t think it’s a matter of education in most cases. Teenagers today have plenty of education about sex. They know what it is, what happens when you have sex, and that contraception can prevent pregnancy. The real problem is that they have unprotected sex anyway.
I don’t know Bristol Palin, but I imagine her getting pregnant had something to do with rumors of Levi cheating, with her wanting to win him/keep him/prove her love to him. And when they were in the moment with nary a condom to be found, she didn’t stop him because she didn’t want him to stop loving her.
I could be very wrong, but from my experience – from years of scares I shared with friends, the hands I’ve held as pregnancy tests were taken in school bathroom stalls, the fingers that were crossed, willing periods to come, that’s what it was about. None of them got THAT lost in the heat of passion that she didn’t consider the lack of contraception and what might happen. None of them just didn’t have access to contraception. They just considered more strongly the repercussions of stopping the act. They took a risk for affection.
Most of them got lucky. One didn’t; she now has a son who is in high school, while the rest of us run after our toddlers.
But all of them, when we talk about it today, look back with regret – not because they didn’t save themselves for marriage or felt they were too young for the responsibility of sex – but because it’s sad to see how desperate some of the reasons they had unsafe sex were, how they lacked the self love and strength to think someone would still be interested in them if they insisted on using contraception. Or how they weren’t strong enough to not settle for a guy who didn’t want to use it.
So I’ll tell my daughter about them, and I’ll tell her that sex can be fun and even purely physical, but she should make sure she always knows why she’s doing it and that she really wants to be doing it.
And I’ll bow to the religious right when it comes to abstinence. I’ll tell her it’s the only way to be 100 percent certain you’re not going to end up pregnant. While very effective, there will always be forgotten pills and condoms that rip, and then all the self confidence in the world isn’t going to do a thing to prevent pregnancy. And she needs to know that.
I’m not sure if I’ll tell her how I had sex when I was young, how I didn’t use protection, and how I could have ended up just like Bristol Palin. And I most likely won’t tell her that there wouldn’t have even been an engagement to break off, because I don’t think I even knew his last name at the time.
If I do, I’ll explain how badly I wanted someone to love me because I didn’t love myself. I was young, insecure, and I wanted to know that someone wanted me. I didn’t want to stop when he was finally showing me that he wanted me; I didn’t want to be the uptight one who insisted on protection. Someone else would readily take my place; I wasn’t that special.
I want my daughter to know that she is THAT special. I’ll tell her all about sex and that I hope she waits until she’s older, in a monogamous relationship and all of the other things I’m supposed to say. But there’s a good chance, she won’t wait; and really, that’s OK with me as long as she has sex because SHE wants to. I want her to be in control of her sexuality and not to use it to try and please others or garner love. I want her to be confident and strong enough not to give in to stupid sex because she’s scared he won’t come back.
And that’s what I’ll tell my daughter … which we’ll discuss on the way to the drugstore to pick up prescription for The Pill.
Maybe we’ll see Sarah there.