Bristol Palin: “Abstinence is Not Realistic”

Posted February 20, 2009 by

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Bristol Palin announced this week that she wants to set the record straight on some of the media stories about her pregnancy. She has a healthy baby boy and is engaged to the baby’s father. The best option is abstinence, the teen said, but added that she didn’t think that was “realistic.”

So what is a realistic expectation when it concerns teenagers and sex? In her interview Bristol mentions that being a mother is not glamorous. Don’t we know it, parents! How quickly images fade of cuddling a newborn in that crook between shoulder and ear. Soon a teen parent, heck any age parent, is faced with endless diapering and poop-filled hours. If Bristol Palin knew that motherhood would not be glamorous, would that have prevented her from having had sex? What if her fiancé thought she would not be glamorous as a mom, would that have stopped them?

Personally, I am not a fan of restricting sex education for teens. I believe knowledge is power and that even with that power, it is still hard for teens to make the right choices.

In my group of friends, there are mothers with teenagers, grown children, some with young kids who are just getting the first “talk” about sex from the school.  Some of us had sex education in school, some of us didn’t. While some in the group were very frank about discussing the actual sex act with their own kids, some only focused on contraception and some used the “the talk”  to introduce formal names for body parts. Others told stories about other people’s kids “in trouble.” It seemed that sex-ed meant different things to each of us.

We readily admitted that despite our age — many of us are in our 40’s — we still made huge parenting blunders and didn’t think we were perfect mothers,  but didn’t necessarily want our kids to know that we struggled. Confident parenting carries a lot of weight in the eyes of a child and  does wonders to encourage compliance when we ask for cooperation from our children. Is it this fear of admitting how hard it is to be a parent, even at our age, that prevents us from sharing realistic expectations with teens about sex?

By the way, I don’t agree with Bristol’s mom on sex ed, but I believe in Sarah Palin’s mothering spirit. She and her husband are helping with childcare, finances, encouraging school and providing emotional support. Parents of teens who are pregnant are forced to face the consequences of their child’s behaviors and those that respond well should be applauded.

Should the purpose of preventing teenage pregnancies focus less on the prevention of having sex, and more on helping teens preventing themselves from becoming mothers and fathers?


Annita Wozniak grew up in a large, imperfect family in the Midwest. "As adults we have the power to build children up or tear them down," she says about the challenges of being a responsible parent, "and we never know when what we say is going to be a defining moment in a child's life." Woz is a writer and child-grower living in the Midwest with her husband and their three inspirational children. She is always learning. You can visit her website at

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  1. Annita Woz (Edit) Report

    I agree! Education is a key component and sex in the media, esp. advertising, is teaching all the wrong lessons. Project Girl is one great resource to help children/teens recognize when media is trying to trick them into believing something in order to sell products. Negative sexual imagery, messages and activities are being promoted so constantly that teens can rarely separate reality from an ad message. Project girls helps teens recognize the message, decipher it, reject it and then use that power of awareness to build self-esteem and be themselves! Project Girl is largely art based but also has a curriculum for schools/organizations and can be taught with an effective peer mentoring component. Check out

  2. Roxane (Edit) Report

    Realistically our children are going to experiment at the tender young age of puberty. It is a gift from God and they do need to be abstinent and they do need to be taught about sex, disease, drugs and alcohol. So, no matter what anyone says these are the realities. However that said, what can we do as parents? All we can do is try to guide them to do what is right. We need to teach them good morals, good values, respect for life, respect for intimacy and others. If you respect your own body, and have a good strong self image, then you are not going to go looking for someone else to fulfill that need in you. I believe that kids are indeed curious and experimenting, but some kids/girls have a low self esteem, or believe that in order to be loved they need to have sex. It is hard when they are going through puberty, and they seek each other for comfort. We must teach them to value their bodies, their selves, give them goals to look forward to so they are not seeking pleasure in the moment. I don’t believe we should leave it up to the media to teach our kids those things. So, we should teach them about the consequences of sex, properly educate them (if we don’t their friends will), disallow inappropriate behaviors, stop the ridiculous onslaught of sex in the media. And when they make mistakes, which they sometimes do, support them as best as we can, and teach them how to deal with the consequences. Wish there was an easy button for parenting.

  3. Annita Woz (Edit) Report

    MelAnnI like the idea of group dating. How simple. And the whole chaperone idea, seems to have gone missing along with chivalry, value of reputation, introductions of your date to dad, etc. Or do those things still exist but in such informal ways that they are easily overlooked or sidestepped…?

  4. MelAnn (Edit) Report

    Abstinence IS realistic! Many of us were able to stay abstinent as teenagers — because of our faith, because it was taboo, and because the culture did not promote it! what is unrealistic is allowing two teenagers to go someone alone (a “date”) and expecting them to remain abstinent. This is the REAL issue. If our culture would promote group dating WITH adult chaperones (the reason for this should be obvious — couples would split off from the group without supervision), then teenage pregnancy would plummet!

  5. Annita Woz (Edit) Report

    Deb i really like your point about sex education focusing on the emotional side and the complex consequences. That may be what sex ed is missing today. Other posts have suggested that a religious component is missing, but given the public-non-religion aspect of schools do you think that a moral component could be just as valuable as a religious component?
    I disagree however that once teens have create a life that they should also create a life partner. I think that approach is as bad as when I hear a woman say, “oh we are having marital problems, i think having a baby will help cement our relationship and make it all better.”

    Having a baby does not fix a relationship whether the couple is married or unmarried.

  6. Deb (Edit) Report

    Young people have more than enough information on contraceptives and the physical aspect of sex — they can hardly escape it if they are exposed to the current “entertainment” on television and through movies. Sex education focused on the emotional side of the issue and the complex consequences would be more helpful. Teens have to be exposed to the message that the greatest way they can empower themselves AND have greater destiny over their futures is to avoid sex before marriage. Those teens who are being raised in religious homes need to hear that they are not “weird” or “abnormal” for being abstinent. It is unrealistic to think that we can totally prevent sexual activity or unwed teen preganancies, but can we at least model strong morality to our kids by working towards reducing these problems? And as for Bristol Palin and Levi — I am discouraged by their failure to marry. How long does the “engagement” last? If they are waiting to find out if they are meant to be each other’s “life partners,” I have a news flash for them — you created a life. Now work to be each other’s life partners and creating a loving two-parent home for your child.

  7. Mom of 4 (Edit) Report

    I wish someone had taught me the full reality of what my church teaches. I am a Roman Catholic and in my faith artificial birth control is not permitted, nor is sex before marriage. Sadly, this was not a clear message that I heard in church and I only learned it (on my own) after marriage. Had I heard it, I would not have been sexually active before marriage. It is a message that is very detailed, presents sex as a gift from God (but one to be used in the proper context)and not negative at all, and it would have made perfect sense to me. Lucky for me, I was very shy and so did not have many sex partners. As a result I never had an STD or got pregnant. However, emotionally, it was really difficult for me. I think people discount the emotional immaturity of teens being able to deal with an intimacy that a sexual relationship requires, and the emotional aftermath of that relationship ending. Also, I don’t think it’s necessarily true that teens would be responsible if we just gave them more information and access to birth control. There are plenty of teens out there who admit to not using their “protection”, despite having access and information. I think the expectation of all teenagers using this responsibly is unrealistic. How many teens get educated on the dangers of reckless driving and then go out and do it anyway? The fact is, the incidences of unsafe sex are NOT decreased with increased access and education. What we are forgetting in the end is that these are still children, despite having all the physical equipment of adults. There are just some things that they should not be allowed to do. Would you give your child a beer and tell them to make sure not to drive? OF course not, they are not old enough for alcohol at the age of 15. So why would they be old enough for sex? In both cases, there is a danger to health and well-being, in both cases there is opportunity to do it despite your disapproval, and in both cases there are consequences to bad behavior. And yes, your child could die from alcohol poisoning or in a drunk driving accident. Very few parents would expect a teen to be able to drink alcohol, yet lots of parents think there’s no choice when it comes to sexual behavior. It is true that my children are still very small and that I am not yet dealing with teenagers, but I hope to give them the information that I was never given. I think the faith component in abstinence education is essential, just like it is essential in what we now term “character education” in schools. Both seem to be more successful in children who have a firm faith foundation. However, I don’t think it should be thoroughly abandoned in those who don’t, it just needs to be approached from a different standpoint and really encouraged at home. Education starts in the home and the home is a major component of what sticks with a child. If it isn’t taught at home, of course it’s not going to stick with them.

  8. Stunned (Edit) Report

    I must admit, I agree with Sweetie. I wish I had been abstinent and gotten married first, as God outlines in His Law. I come from a very Modern, yet Bible teaching church where our youth are taught how to be pure. Ultimately, it comes down to parental support, lots of prayer, complete understanding on the part of the individual, and his or her own relationship with God. No matter what, we are to love our children, support them, and teach them as best we can. I have two, one has made it to manhood in celibacy, but has a long way to go before marriage. My eight year old hasn’t had my “talk” yet, and I prayerfully know that I have to go there. I just trust God to guide me, and keep my children in the company of those who believe as they believe, without being sheltered in the world they live in.

  9. sweetie (Edit) Report

    I disagree with Bristol Palin…I didn’t get married until age 43 and I was a virgin until then. It’s not a matter of sex education, but self control and values and a belief in the one God who will one day be our judge. I could have NEVER had sex outside of marriage. It was unthinkable in my mind and heart. Purity and innocence is a value which is lost in today’s society. In many cultures a girl like Bristol would be imprisoned for out of wedlock birth and she would be ostrocised in society and considered an outcast. We are the opposite extreem…sex is taboo in many countries, but not in ours. That’s a shame. Whatever happend to good moral values and truth?

  10. piscesshelly (Edit) Report

    I agree with Bristol Palin that abstinence is not a realistic expectation for everyone. People have to face the facts that many teens are going to have sex, with or without their parents’ permission. If the parents are so strict and “just say no” to the kids, then the majority of kids will be hiding sex from their parents. They may be afraid to use a condom for fear their parents will find it in a garbage. What would you rather find, your child’s condom in a garbage can, or your grandchild in a garbage can? Ask yourself that question, be somewhat open-minded, remind yourself that God does not tolerate hatred towards anyone, even if you are the most righteous person on Earth, and the answers will come.

  11. Annita Woz (Edit) Report

    smc thank you for the “peace” reminder. It is great to have all these ideas and conversation on this very important topic and i’m grateful that everyone is posting in such a positive manner.

  12. smc (Edit) Report

    Kristin, you say “All birth control prevents life and God from being part of the union and sex is meant to be life giving. If you aren’t prepared to bring a life into the world than you are not ready for sex.”. Well ‘abstinence’ IS birth control. And this includes chosing not to have sex with your spouse when you are ovulating. By your account, sex is ‘only’ for pro-creation. So, when you went on your honeymoon, did you have sex for pleasure or to make babies. You have millions of eggs. Do you feel compelled to become pregnant every time one is released? After all, that’s the design (mechanically speaking).

    You oversimplify at the risk of your child’s safety. And it will bring you no comfort if your child becomes pregnant (or worse) as a result of your unwillingness to talk about protection. You CAN talk about it without promoting it.

    What many would call the ‘conservative Christian’ perspective on sexuality is not conservative at all. It ignores some scriptures and takes others out of context. It’s a very liberal interpretation of the scriptures. Sex is intended for marriage, but not ONLY for procreation.

    Look Song of Solomon makes it very clear that sex is a gift that was intended for procreation AND PLEASURE. And THAT is one of the real distinctions between man and other animals. Where we agree is that it is intended to be in the context of marriage. And that’s the catch, isn’t it?

    Parents talking with kids is the most effective tool there is. Every study shows this. It applies to drugs. It applies to school. It applies to sex. But for the sake of your children, don’t be afraid to discuss the broader issues (STD’s, protection, WAITING).

    So TALK to them. Pray with/for them. Inform them. knowledge really IS power.

    Peace. And no offense intended. Just disagree.

  13. Annita Woz (Edit) Report

    Well it appears that more information, and the kind that really shows the results of STDs, etc can be a deterrent as mentioned in this article by Laura Berman. Her summary however, makes no mention of religious information or even morals as part of a successful sex ed program.

    Berman says, that “In fact, when it comes to sex education, Illinois is leading the nation with bright ideas and a dedication to reform. And it is no secret that our country is in dire need of this reform. From Hollywood to Gloucester, Mass., teens across the United States are practicing unsafe sex, leading to new STD infections every day and a lack of decline in teenage pregnancy…In this past year (2008), a study commissioned by Congress found that abstinence-only education does not deter teenagers from having sex, nor does it encourage them to use contraception…

    In the place of ineffective abstinence-only sex education, we need comprehensive abstinence-centric sex education. What’s the difference? The former only preaches the need to wait. The latter also encourages teens to wait, but additionally teaches them how to negotiate condom use and how to practice safer sex, along with illustrating the realities of STDs and pregnancy. There’s a big difference in scare tactics and education — one is effective, and one isn’t.”

  14. Kristin (Edit) Report

    I believe in abstinence education. God created the sexual union between a married man and woman…what greater gift is there than to preserve yourself for one person for the marital embrace. To assume kids, or even adults, are no better than animals who can’t control themselves is insulting to the individual. The powerful sexual desires are intense, to be sure, but if kids and adults are taught not to give into selfish desires and temptation (prayer, meditation, exercise, not putting one in compromising situations, etc.) then we empower the individual instead of reducing them to mere animals. God created us in his image and we must live up to that image through our actions. I agree also that parents must educate in this area and be specific about consequences of premarital sex…disease, pregnancy, emotional scars. And of course a discussion on birth control and how flawed it is. The birth control pill is an abortifacient (a human life can be formed and the pill can kill it before anybody even knows a baby was created). All birth control prevents life and God from being part of the union and sex is meant to be life giving. If you aren’t prepared to bring a life into the world than you are not ready for sex.

  15. dee77 (Edit) Report

    I wish someone would have explained to me that the reason that God commanded that we wait until marriage is because of the very special gift he has given us with sexual activity in the marriage relationship. I thought God just did not want me to have any “fun”. So in the process of me enjoying all of this “fun” I got many STD’s including HIV. I do not know if that info would have stopped my behavior or not. The bottom line is that we have become so accustomed to sexual activity everywhere esp. on TV that we think it is “normal”. It isn’t and God has give us so many precious gifts if we will just listen to His word. We quickly forget that we are a country founded on the promises of God. I believe it was Washington who said that our Constitution would only work for a country with moral and ethical beliefs in alignment with the Bible. The whole separation thing is ridiculous considering we used to use the Bible to learn to read in “SCHOOL” oh my goodness–WHAT IS so awful about this –our kids weren’t taking guns to school, dressing sexually etc.
    We need to raise the bar of expectations!!!!!!

  16. smc (Edit) Report

    Folks, pregnancy is just one of MANY risks associated with unprotected sexual activity (NOT just intercourse). The rate of sexually transmitted disease among teenagers is staggering. You know, they might get pregnant and the next 18 years of their lives are very different for sure. But they might get genital herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or some other STD and they REST OF THEIR LIVES will be very different. Try finding a lifeline soul mate who wants to marry someone with one of these diseases. The fear of pregnancy isn’t particularly motivating for kids. But show them some explicit pictures of these diseases and I’m betting it causes them to pause just a little longer before saying ‘yes’… and during that brief instant, they might actually have a moment of clarity about the situation and make a better choice. And if they DO decide to have sex, they might considering using protection.

  17. smc (Edit) Report


    While I appreciate your perspective on this matter, we are also ‘fallen’ and we live in a fallen world. David was ‘a man after God’s own heart’. Yet, his son (Solomon) seemed to have his share of struggles. Did not Jesus entire ministry center around those who couldn’t make the connection between what they ‘believed’ and what they ‘did’? It’s both foolish and irresponsible to assume that a child that is bombarded with sexuality would be immune from the associated temptations. You are also ignoring the data, which says that kids have trouble connecting what they ‘believe’ with what they ‘do’ when it comes to sex. God invented sex. He created sexuality and he said “It is good”. The trick is providing kids with a vision and the motivation) for the proper context for their sexuality. Your response oversimplifies the problem and ignores the physical, emotional, hormonal chaos that is taking place in a child during a time when they are being influenced by significant social pressures. I would, respectfully, suggest that to not discuss all perspectives (including protection) borders on negligence.

  18. mombee (Edit) Report

    There is no such thing as “abstinence is best, but here’s a condom just incase.” You might as well teach them that this is a good idea, but it is so outdated, so go ahead and have sex. Abstinence is not unrealistic. I remained abstinent until marriage and so did many of the women AND men, by the way, that I knew in high school. It is a choice. That being said, I believe that sex education must come from the parents and that parents need to get over their fear of talking to their kids. Sex education in the schools obviously is a failure since we have grammar school kids having sex these days. Parents need to step it up and be parents. Stop counting on the world to tell your kids what is best for you. If your kids fail to be responsible with sex, they will have to face the consequences. We want to protect our children from those consequences, but they have got to learn to be responsible on their own. Their choices will surely teach them just as Bristle and Levi are now learning.

  19. Shirley Miller (Edit) Report

    I don’t think someone as smart as Bristol Palin did not know how to protect herself from getting pregnant in the first place. I agree that teens today don’t give much thought about respecting each other’s bodies in lieu of having a good time but they should be smart enough to protect each other from a pregnancy that will surely lead most to a devasting end.

    I am glad that Bristol has the family support that she has. I think she and Levi should go to college, get jobs and then decide if they were meant to be life partners.

  20. kevin (Edit) Report

    God gave the world explicit orders (command),to not have sex outside of marriage. This is the cure for all the fears you are showing. Realistic? Just because you all have sinned against God, does not give you the right to will it upon your children. Realistic? You bet! How dare you give an immature human a time bomb. Raise your kids in the rightousness of God and you will sleep well.

  21. Annita Woz (Edit) Report

    Good food for thought here. So if I’m hearing you and Dale correctly, sex ed would be best if it encompasses emotional protection, pregnancy protection and parent prevention.

    I’m wondering if this a realistic goal for sex ed given the current programs that are in place in schools or if this comprehensive approach belongs more as part of a communications class or a social studies class?

  22. Ashley (Edit) Report

    Bristol Palin said it well when she noted that, “the idea of abstinence is not realistic.” As a college student, I think that it would be safe to say that in todays world, the majority of my generation and the ones following have completely ruled out that concept. However, I feel that those who are fully aware of the possible responsibilities/consequences that can come along with having sex are more apt to having “safe” sex. That being anything along the lines of using protection, contraceptives, etc.

    With that being said, I think that sex ed should still focus on preventing sex but devote much more time to helping teens prevent themselves from becoming parents.

  23. Dale Sadler (Edit) Report

    In your last paragraph I think both should be focused on. That is a balanced sex-ed program. Outlining the dangers of multiple partners which if you’re a teen, this is a high probability because very few marry their “first.” However, expecting kids to just be abstinent is a tall order. They need to know about contraception but also about its limitations including the emotional confusion having sex before marriage can cause.



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