Last week President Obama ushered in a new era for sex education in this country when he cut all federal funding for abstinence-only instruction. The move has been applauded as a major step forward for our nation's sexual health, given that abstinence-only education is proven to be ineffective and states that push abstinence often have higher rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases than those that teach comprehensive, evidence-based sex education.
But what does the woman who spent years as one of the country’s most visible abstinence cheerleaders think?
Yes, I’m talking about Bristol Palin. After becoming pregnant at 17 years old, the daughter of the former governor of Alaska-cum-Trump supporter became an outspoken advocate for abstinence before marriage. Starting in 2009, Palin took a vow of abstinence in her own life, telling In Touch Weekly, "I'm not going to have sex until I'm married. I can guarantee it."
That same year she signed on to be an ambassador for The Candie's Foundation's teen pregnancy prevention campaign. While the campaign doesn't bill itself as abstinence-only—and Palin herself has said that abstinence might not be for everyone—she spent the next few years traveling the country making speeches touting the benefits of abstinence and urging young women to save themselves for marriage.
During a 2010 speech in California, she told a crowd of nearly 1,000 people, “I’m here to say that one fact remains. Those that practice abstinence have no chance of becoming pregnant. Abstinence is not about morality, it is about reality. It is the only thing that works every time. My message is a simple one: Don’t make the same decision I made, just wait. Young ladies, please hear me.”
Several sources have reported that she was paid at least six figures for her work promoting abstinence. Of course, Palin ultimately changed her mind about sex before marriage in her own life, becoming pregnant with her second child in 2015.
So when I reached out to Palin about Obama's decision to effectively end abstinence-only education in public schools, I expected her to advocate for why the president was wrong. But in an email, she wrote:
My stance on the issue is to let parents decide what they want to teach their kids—government shouldn't interfere with how parents raise their children.
While her statement leaves room for interpretation, it sounds like abstinence's one-time champion is pretty much okay with getting rid of abstinence-only education. Either that or she's saying we should get rid of all sexual education and leave it up to parents? Or she's saying that Americans should have a choice when it comes to their personal lives—choice being the operative word.
She then added this brilliant backhanded compliment:
However, I am thankful to Obama for cutting our federal budget, since we’re trillions of dollars in debt after his two terms.
Well played, Bristol. Well played.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.