Bristol Palin's son is now four months old. Her life is one long round of diaper-changes and feedings, which of course is a big change to most American eighteen year olds. Bristol however is taking on an additional task: becoming active in the campaign to prevent teen pregnancy.
It's difficult to evaluate this. On one level, yeah, only a female teen who has given birth knows just how rough this new way of life can be. Levi Johnson, the boyfriend who at first was groomed for a wedding, is now on the outs with Bristol's mom, Sarah Palin, and does not seem like a marriage prospect at this point- so Bristol will have to parent the infant on her own, with some help from family. So sure, she understands and explains freely that she has not put herself into an enviable position. But then again, appearing on national TV with an adorable sleeping baby on her lap, is the message going to get lost? Especially when she uses the word "blessing"?
Then there is the who abstinence thing. At first, she called it "unrealistic" as the difficulties of her situation became clear and her relationship with Levi pretty much ended. But now? After Tripp's birth, Bristol initially said she would advocate safe sex. Now, she's advocating abstinence as the only 100 percent certain way to avoid teen pregnancy.
Matt Lauer said that may be unrealistic. "Is there room for safe sex?" he asked Bristol.
"If you're going to have sex, I think you should have safe sex," she said before going back to her message that only abstinence works, Of course her Dad was sitting at the other end of the couch, she had to be careful what she said.
It's easy to politicize this of course. For one thing, the infant's grandmother still appears to have some national political ambitions, and that muddies the water morally speaking. Is Bristol being pressured to stop talking about contraception, or at least being asked to de-emphasize it? Thing of it is, abstinence is fine, if you actually stick with it. Those two did not stick with, and there are a lot of kids out there who went down that same road: abstain abstain abstain abstain whoops baby. Sorry if that is tacky, but if you choose abstinence over contraception, you are in big trouble if you change your mind without a condom in your pocket, that's all I'm saying.
I think actually that it is okay to mention the concept of abstinence to our children as we are preparing them for the challenges of sexuality. With our two daughters, I seem to recall that we emphasized the idea that sexual intercourse relationships do not work well in high school because the relationships tend to be transitory when young people are just starting to learn about how to have a relationship. We have also been up front with the idea that sex tends to happen in college, and that seems to be okay especially in a relationship in which one is trying out the idea of committment. At a certain point in the lives of our sons and daughters, we are better off offering suggestions than trying to dictate. If the bond of mutual respect continues to hold, all that we can expect is for our offspring to take a suggestion in the spirit it is offered: not an effort to control their existence, but rather as an effort to spare them the heartache of taking a wrong turn. For example, the wrong turn that Bristol Palin and Levi Johnson took.
It's a tough issue. I think we could do a much better job in the USA of getting teens to either postpone sexual intercourse, or to accept the burden of maintaining consistently safe behaviors that accompany that decision to say "Yes"- not just "fine I will wear a condom when I feel like wearing one". I hope that Bristol Palin's participation in the project to reduce teen pregnancy will be helpful, but I do have some concerns that her message will be muddled and quiet rather than loud and clear.