What I Want My Daughter to Know about Bristol Palin

Teenage pregnancy isn't really about sex

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.

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0 thoughts on “What I Want My Daughter to Know about Bristol Palin

  1. Beautifully written — this brought me to tears — I recognize myself in your words, as a woman who was once a teenage girl and also as the mother of a daughter. Of all our jobs as parents, instilling that self-confidence and knowledge of self-worth and specialness is surely the most important.

  2. I wonder what Bristol would say if she were to read this paragraph? I wonder if Levi did pressure her, or if theirs was a consensual, loving relationship and maybe the condom did break? That could have happened too.

    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.

  3. The whole “Levi and Bristol have always wanted to get married” that was perpetuated during the presidential campaign was a sham we all knew would end this way after the election was over–and lost. Shame on the republicans for holding up the idea that no, no, teenage pregnancy is okay in this case, it shows that your potential VP is JUST LIKE YOU! Give me a break.

  4. Look I get this is an unfortunate reality that any parent can be faced with, but I guess I wonder if Sarah and her hubby possibly missed a step along the way. Perhaps there daughter needed a bit more, and this was her way of crying out.

  5. As one of four sisters who never got a single birds and bees talk from my parents, I can certainly understand how something like this could happen. That said, even I new as a teenager how these things worked and how much I didn’t want to have a babytoo soon. It certainly rests on the Palin parents but some responsibility falls on Bristol’s shoulder too.

  6. She definitely would have been better off having had a talk about maybe if you were interested in having sex, that protecting yourself would be a better option than abstaining. I’m curious to know if Sarah was a virgin before she got married. My guess is NO!

  7. As I read this column, I wondered what AnonyBetty’s mother told AnonyBetty about sex. Unlike pmsgirl, I have no problem believing that Bristol and Levi once planned to get married. Teens actually think that way, you know. Levi had “Bristol” tattooed around his ring finger.

    As far as I can tell, 6/7 of the commenters to this post now are on the Betty payroll, so I thought I’d add an independent opinion, as a woman who was once a teenage girl.

  8. I admire your candor and your awareness in planning “the talk” with your children. However, what most people. especially journalists, have failed to realise is that Briston Palin’s high school teaches COMPREHENSIVE sex education.

    Her mother may be a proponent of abstinence-only education, but Bristol and all of her siblings receive the full battery of education and warnings afforded to anyone who attends their high school. Please do your research properly before making unsubstantiated comments.

  9. I think the author’s point is that neither comprehensive sex education nor abstinence only teaching are what’s going to stop teen pregnancies–it’s about instilling something deeper in them.

  10. My mother was smart (or scared) enough to not talk and talk about sex with me. Instead she talked about books, art, the world and love… she would hand me literature to read, poems, plan trips to public libraries and museums and she loved to watch documentaries with me.
    That is how I learned that I needed time (free of children) to travel the world, learn about my favorite subjects, to paint, read, write, love… She gave me the tools and inspiration I need to take control and be responsible for my sexual life. I will forever love her for it.

  11. I have to say that at age 32 with a son who is a sophomore in high school that I fall in this statistic. But due to my own experience, I believe that a large population of pregnant teens is being left out in this article. The writer assumes that the parents care enough to have the talk. Some teenagers have parents who don’t care, or even worse, have parents who make teen pregnancy (and getting out of the house) look like heaven. We had/have an unbearable home life where one or both parents is abusive in all the ways possible. It is not out of lack of self love that these children get pregnant, it is out of extreme self love that they do. They understand that it is the only way to save themselves.

  12. To me my sexuality is my very essence my personal core energy. To me this personal energy is very special; something that I use to work me, to say what I want to say and, to do what I want to do. I can reach out to others using this energy if I want but it doesn’t have to be with my body and it doesn’t have to be implying a sex encounter. My sexuality makes me smile it feels good inside of me without anybody else touching it or having to release it. When i feel a build up of my sexual energy to me that means I have a block and my energy is not flowing if it gets stuck in just one part of my body or causes me to obsess in my thought.

    Younger folks may have a hormonal factor working in favor of having a sexual encounter in their bodies but, i tell ya learning to contain that energy and use it for your personal growth and health you really can learn to do anything with this energy. This energy is your creative force. Use it to do something else. Understand that your body is making hormones let these hormones feed your other body parts because it is good for your health. I said it is good for your health. Your body does things with this energy that help your skin stay young looking and give your muscles energy to burn when you abstain. I am sure all great athletes know this. Some important subtle often not even understood functions of the body can not be nourished without these hormonal messages circulating though out the body. This is the real energy crisis!!!

    We do need to try an slow down the population growth. To me it is really sad that so many teens are having children that they cannot afford to raise and either put an added burden on their parents or on the State. I am not for abortion cause. I think that people need to get control of their own bodies and get more work done on this earth(least the government decide to do it for us)and stop using their sexual energy to waste their own life. People are obsessed with sex. The ancient religions made laws about sexuality to protect life. Maybe they knew something that we have forgotten about the human condition. I believe all the power struggles of the whole world among people are about unbalanced use and theft of this energy. I guess it will take us another 2 thousand years to get it…
    I guess to some sexual liberty might mean to be able to have sex any time any where with anyone. Here I am suggesting that self discipline is the real sexual liberty.

    To be able to control yourself and your thoughts and actions gives you personal power.

    I think one of the reasons the world’s economy is out of balance is because people are easily seduced. Look at how images are used in advertisement. The suggestion that their product will make you more attractive, give you a better status, more time ect… all of it is seduction and steals your energy.

    John McCain’s reason for choosing Sarah Palin was about seduction; men see a hot babe and no longer pay attention to what is being said and middle American women can say oh I am like her because I have kids like her and I have a pregnant teen aged daughter like her and like her I don’t believe in abortion blah blah blah this is seduction and it steals your energy.

    You have energy in your own body that is being drained by this kind of thing. We and our children are being subliminally attacked every time we turn on the TV set. The more you think about having sex the more you are fooled and your energy is being taken from you. I hate it when I hear men and women say about men that they cannot control their sexual needs. That is the biggest lie.

    Your life will be corrupted if you go on believing that you cannot control your thoughts and your own body regarding your sexual energy. Children watch their parents behaviors and they continue the dramas we teach them. It is my opinion that when and if we can come to terms with our sexuality that there will be a lot more peace. Thanks for reading this.

  13. I’ve been preaching the self-confidence idea for a long time now. It’s the only reason I waited until college to have sex. Even after a boyfriend broke up with me because of my refusal to have sex with him. I still felt I wanted better for myself.

    Of course parents play a big part in instilling self-confidence in our daughters but I also think some girls are born with more of it than others. Either my parents did one thing right or I was just lucky!

  14. Well, ultimately, as someone who is not so far from teenager-dom, I will say that girls having sex isn’t always about keeping your man. Teenage girls don’t always have sex when they don’t want to. A lot of us did want to.

    Otherwise, it’s a good idea to teach girls to have self-worth, so if they are in situations where they feel pressured, they don’t have to.

  15. I was one of the unlucky teens who got pregnant my senior year of high school. And as the author pointed out, it wasnt because i didnt know anything about sex or how to protect myself from becoming pregnant or that my parents had “missed a step”.. it was solely because my boyfriend wanted to. He was the guy i had had a crush on since 6th grade and we finally started dating our Jr year of high school. I was very shy and had a very hard time expressing how i felt and a very hard time saying no to him. he was never abusive or anything like that, but at that age it seems like you want to please everyone, especially your boyfriend. my daughter is now 7 years old and i try to give her the self confidence she needs in order to stand up for her self when she is in a situation like i was. (the fact that she is taking karate helps too) i dont want her to feel like she has to sacrafice her feels in order to please someone else.

  16. This was so very beautifully written. Even though my daughter is 3 years old, I sometimes wonder why I will tell her myself, when time comes to have that talk. I wonder that about my 4 year old son as well. I completely agree with everything you said. I hope, one day, to be able to talk to my daughter in depth about this. Thank you for writing this. It is beautiful. I love it.

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