Gutter Politics and Teenage Sexuality

It has to be said.

You know, being seventeen and pregnant sucks. Being seventeen and pregnant in a small town’s high school really sucks. Now imagine having your condition advertised among 300 million Americans.

Forgive my language, but sometimes politics is just a sea of shit, isn’t it?

(Hat tip: Stageleft).

On Teenage Sexuality

If there is any benefit to be had from the sad revelation that Sarah Palin’s seventeen-year-old daughter is five months pregnant, perhaps it could be that it brings to the attention of more Americans of how prevalent the problem of teenage pregnancy can be. It can happen even to a governor’s daughter. It can happen even to a god-fearing family. It can happen even to a family that strongly advocates abstinence-only sex education. Perhaps even especially to a family that advocates abstinence-only sex education.

There has begun, at least, a debate in the blogosphere on the issue of teenage sexuality. One blogger, social conservative Suzanne of the Blg Blue Wave makes the following observation:

seventeen-year-olds have not finished growing. They’re still kids. Even the smart ones do stupid things. Most of them do, when their parents aren’t looking.

Abstinence cannot be purely a matter of individual will, especially the will of a seventeen-year-old.

The innocence of teenagers is one contributing factor to teenaged sex. They don’t know any better, they’re innocent.

Yes, they know what causes pregnancy, but teenagers are not always good at predicting the nature of the consequences of their actions. Magical thinking is part and parcel of the adolescent mindset. They plan their lives by excluding the possibility of bad things happening to them.

I know how liberals would respond to this: give them contraception.


The rest of her post repeats much of what she say about teenagers being unable to really control themselves, and the need of parents to take a more active role in the lives of these children. The latter part is a common sense statement, except for a couple of things. For one thing, she presumes that liberal parents don’t do this, which is, of course, bunkum. My parents are as liberal as you’ve ever seen, and they were deeply involved in my life as a teenager. And, for another, after chastising liberals for assuming that birth control wasn’t used in Palin’s case, Suzanne seems to work on the assumption that it was, either that, or she blithely overlooks the fact that Sarah Palin is no liberal.

And, finally, while chastising liberal parents for downplaying the potential consequences of sex, and avoiding taking more responsibility for their children’s actions — something that most liberals don’t do (my parents certainly gave me a curfew, and strict instructions on calling them, if I had to break it) — she offers very little in the way of concrete solutions other than, possibly, ‘lock up your daughters’.

As the father of two daughters, teenage sexuality has been something I have thought a lot about these past couple of years, even though their teenage years are a decade away. My two-and-a-half year old daughter is a spirited individual. It’s easy to flash forward to Vivian as a teenager and quake in fear over how those years are going to go. Vivian is outgoing and, more than that, she is fearless. She will cast herself off a cliff in total confidence that I will catch her, and I dare not miss. How will she throw herself into the world during her teenage years?

But, then, this is a quality I don’t ever want her to lose. I joke about taking up chainsaw sculpting in order to scare away prospective boyfriends, but if she chooses to love, I hope that she loves well, and if she chooses not to wait, then I hope that those moments are ones she looks back on fondly in later years, with no regrets.

And if that means that I have to deal with a teenage pregnancy instead, well… that’s when I roll up my sleeves, give my daughter all my love and support as a parent. Ultimately, there is little else that I can do.

And let’s not get too complacent about quieter Nora, either. Sometimes it’s the quiet ones who can really fool you.

So, what can I do before then? The best answer I can come up with, as the son of librarians, is to flood Vivian and Nora with information, and try to be as open as possible so that (cue laughter from parents of teenagers here) they can feel that they can confide in me, or ask me for help or love or support, no matter what the news. I’ll try to teach them that it’s better to wait but, failing that, I’ll point out where the condoms are, and tell them that if their boyfriends really loved them, they’d respect their wishes in wearing them, and if not, it’s time to walk away.

I believe that there should be no shame in sex. I’ll say it again: there should be no shame in sex. The act is the best way we know to make a baby, yes, but it is also a way for a loving couple to express that love to each other. Any two individuals who are of age, who are aware of and accept the potential responsibility of conception, should be allowed to make that expression to each other, without coercion, without fear, and without shame. Though marriage is a good place for it, I don’t see that it has to be limited to that institution.

Suzanne’s discussion about how to lower the number of teenage pregnancies has its heart in the right place, but it is wrong-headed. She suggests keeping closer tabs on your children, keeping them “innocent”, and while these are good ideas in and of themselves, they’ll likely not be effective all the time. Ms. Palin was an active mother, and intelligent woman, and passionate in her beliefs about sex and sexuality, and yet her daughter still ended up pregnant. It’s fair to suggest that we need to keep closer tabs on the lives of our teenagers, but it’s unreasonable to expect that we’ll ever control them.

Ultimately, the decisions are theirs, and while we cannot prevent them from making stupid decisions, we can still give them all the information they’ll need to make the right decision when the time comes — that they’ll wait for the right moment, or that they’ll use protection if they decide that now is the right moment — and we can keep giving and giving that information in the same manner that we keep giving and giving them love.

And ultimately, it’s love that is the best — and possibly the only — thing we can give our children. They may have to learn the hard way to take responsibility for their mistakes, but our duty as parents is to do our level-headed best to ensure that their mistakes don’t kill them, and don’t ruin their lives.

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