Tuesday, 5 October 2010

I've really enjoyed watching Dancing With the Stars on ABC. This is the first time I've seen the show because I've either worked nightside or lived in London since the series started. Last night, Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol danced well with her professional partner and mentioned her speeches on abstinence during public appearances.

She has a right to stand up for what she is passionate about and I appreciate her work to inspire teenagers.  Having said that, I do not agree with her message. I tweeted something along those lines and many tweeps wanted to know why.

Here we go:

I volunteered and was trained as a HIV/AIDS educator for high schoolers while a student at Carson-Newman College for a community service program I participated in as a Bonner Scholar. Along with another girl (Beth), I traveled to schools in East Tennessee and talked with teens. Part of the grant-funded program was a devastating video of teens who had contracted HIV and eventually died of AIDS. They interviewed throughout their illness and gave a final interview before dying. We showed the video and taught abstinence as a moral option (C-NC is a Christian college). That wasn't going to save lives so we also educated teens about sexuality and how they could actively protect themselves from HIV and pregnancy.

Teens are having sex even if they don't really want to.

Many "good" girls in the bible belt, like me, have probably stood at the front of their Southern Baptist church and pledged purity and abstinence to a congregation while wearing a small silver band as a sign of commitment to Jesus. (I don't remember many guys that participated in the same ceremony.) So even while some teens pledge to abstain from having pre-martial sex, there are powerful hormones, those who are not afraid to force their victims to break abstinence vows and others who just want to naturally explore the mystery of sex.

The pursuit of abstinence (while admirable) unfortunately can lead to pregnancy, intense guilt, sexually transmitted diseases and in extreme cases, death from AIDS.

If your daughter is in a situation where a guy (whom she "loves") forces her or pressures her into intercourse and she is not on the pill or carrying a condom, she is not protected.  A commitment to abstinence can lead to a lack of protection because there is no preparation for the experience.

I've lived through this. I've been an educator for a program which worked to publicize the deaths of teens who did not have protected sex and contracted HIV. We hoped to save others from the same fate through education.

Even Bristol Palin became pregnant in a moment of passion. She didn't have a plan to responsibly usher in the pressures of being a teenager because she relied on willpower to abstain.

Perhaps a campaign about waiting for while preparing for "smart" sex is appropriate. Is it fair to have unrealistic expectations for teenagers and not provide education on how to intelligently confront the hormonal changes they face?

My opinion is not right for everyone and I respect that. I have a unique perspective and felt compelled to share. Thanks for reading. Please forgive me for being so bold.


Annie said...

Very well written. This is a sound argument, and I share your views. I think the focus of sex ed should be PROTECTION, not abstinence.

Amber C said...

Hi Denae. Great post!

I understand how you’d be conflicted about teaching abstinence in schools as a moral option. To me, that’s an idea that would be most appropriately presented in churches and homes. Because, like you say, fighting hormones is tough, and if you’re going to present abstinence as a choice you make based on morals, then abstinence has got to be something the kid totally buys into in order for it to stick. The kid’s got to be very grounded and committed to that idea when faced with the choice to have sex, in order for the teachings of abstinence to be effective. For a lot of teens, that commitment and grounding is based on their genuine faith and trust in God, not on scare tactics in videos (nor pressure to join the rest of the youth group in front of the church, for that matter). To go to a middle or high school classroom and tell kids how morally right it is for them to abstain, and expect them to follow through, is unrealistic and unfair since many of them wouldn’t have had those strong, deep-seated convictions. Then when the chips are down and they're in the moment, they’re unprepared. In that sense, I think those types of programs mislead kids, in spite of all of the good intentions.

That said, I do think it’s wise to present abstinence as a practical option, along with everything else that comprises sex education. I agree with Annie that the focus should always be self-protection, of which abstinence should be one angle. Some kids will have very strong practical, personal reasons for deciding to wait, reasons that have nothing to do with morals. This girl wants a soccer scholarship and won’t let anything stand in her way, so she waits. This guy watched his older brother go through baby mama drama, so he waits. Abstinence can be a healthy and attainable path, and there are people who get through high school, college, and beyond while choosing to wait, for whatever reason motivates them. But, it’s only one option, not the solution.

I think teens do need to hear that, yes, it is perfectly okay to wait, and that they’re not freaks for choosing not to have sex. I don’t know the specifics of Bristol’s platform, but to me, those teens who ARE choosing to wait are the ones who need to hear her message of abstinence the most. They are the ones who need encouragement and affirmation that they’re doing the right thing for themselves. Bristol is one voice of encouragement for them in the midst of a confusing, sexually saturated culture. I think she has her place.

Denae said...

Ladies - excellent thoughts and comments, thanks for sharing! I really appreciate your time.