Joan Smith: Teenage parent Bristol Palin tells it like it is

Calls for abstinence from sex are unrealistic

Related Topics

It's barely been reported in this country, but Sarah Palin's 18-year-old daughter gave birth to a son in December.

You may recall that the revelation of Bristol Palin's pregnancy was a shock for Republican presidential candidate John McCain after he chose Mrs Palin as his running mate, drawing attention to her support for that absurdity known as "abstinence-based" sex education. Sarah Palin has been strangely reluctant to discuss the subject since she became a grandmother, but in a halting interview on a right-wing TV station, Bristol has let slip that she disagrees with her mother's views on sex education. She now says that she would like to use her experience to persuade other teenage girls not to become pregnant.

In the UK, teenage pregnancies have been much discussed in the past few days, as the number of teenage conceptions in England and Wales rose for the first time in five years. Among girls aged 15 to 17, conception rates rose from 40.9 per thousand in 2006 to 41.9 per thousand in 2007; in the younger age range, there was an increase from 7.8 to 8.1 per thousand. There were claims that the Government's strategy to halve teenage pregnancy by 2010 wasn't working, and the usual demands for a return to traditional family values.

Right-wing commentators love to moan about recreational sex, as if the only kind they ever have is to increase the population. In fact, the majority of sex acts these days are recreational, that is, they're about love and pleasure rather than procreation. It's clear that what works in terms of preventing teenage pregnancies is educating young people about sex, contraception and how to handle relationships – including how to say no to unwanted sex – along with support for girls who are at risk of pregnancy, truancy and substance abuse.

Where all these things are already being done, the number of teenage pregnancies is still going down, even in some of the most deprived parts of England. In Hackney, east London, the number of teenagers getting pregnant has dropped by more than a quarter; in Rotherham, the town in South Yorkshire which hit the headlines in 1999 when a 12-year-old girl gave birth, the teenage pregnancy rate has been cut by 10.5 per cent in the past decade.

Even Lambeth, the south London borough which has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Britain, has reported a decline for the fourth year running. Three of Lambeth's 11 sexual health clinics have specific surgeries for young people and the council sends nurses into schools, youth centres and homeless centres to provide advice about sexual relationships. In Rotherham, a pilot scheme has been set up to provide intensive support to vulnerable girls, and early results show that substance abuse and teenage pregnancies have gone down, while school attendance is up.

All of this is exemplary, and shows that the problem isn't too much sex education but the reluctance of some councils to implement the Government's strategy. They don't want to spend money or they're influenced by family values campaigners, who argue that educating kids about sex encourages them to try it. I wish they'd listen to Bristol Palin, who has learned the hard way that telling teenagers to abstain from sex is "not realistic at all".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn