The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda
But the media has been getting this story wrong for some time now and it is widely believed even today that Sarah Palin supports abstinence-only education. NPR got it wrong back in 2008. As did the The Washington Post, MSNBC, ABC News and The Wallstreet Journal .
Unfortunately, many feminists have followed the misinformation of the mainstream media. Jessica Valenti claimed Sarah Palin to be against sex education in 2008 as did Eve Ensler and Gloria Jacobs of the Feminist Press. More recently, Amanda Hess got Palin’s position wrong in her column “The Sexist” in the Washington City Paper. During the Letterman scandal, Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon criticized Sarah and Bristol Palin for supporting abstinence education but failed to acknowledge that they also supports birth control education. In 2009 Feministing confused Sarah Palin’s abstinence advocacy as support for abstinence-only programs while a recent article about Bristol Palin muddies the definition of comprehensive sex education.
But I must admit, the confusion makes sense since sex ed terminology can be confusing. We often hear the following sex ed buzz words thrown around: abstinence education, abstinence-only, comprehensive sex education and explicit sex education. But understandably most Americans do not know the difference.
So I thought a primer in sex education terminology would be helpful:
- Abstinence education is simply abstinence education and does not necessarily mean abstinence-only education.
- Abstinence-only education is a sex education approach that advocates abstinence as the only way to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The topic of birth control is only mentioned in terms of their failure and risk.
- Comprehensive sex education is supported by most Americans and takes the approach that while abstinence is preferable it is important for teens to understand birth control including condom use, birth control pills, etc.
- Explicit sex education is a sex education program that is more explicit then comprehensive sex education. An explicit sex education program might include discussions on sexual fantasies, teaching middle school students how to unroll condoms in class and sex education for elementary students. Most Americans are against explicit sex education.
Another reason for the confusion is the lazy reporting by most of the mainstream media. Back in 2008 major news sources sited Palin’s answer to an awkwardly worded question prepared by an Eagle Forum Alaska Questionnaire in 2006. The leading question (which only offered two choices) and Palin’s answer were:
“Will you support funding for abstinence-until-marriage education instead of for explicit sex-education programs, school-based clinics, and the distribution of contraceptives in schools?” Palin: “Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support.”
Due to this Q&A most media sources mistakenly took Palin’s strong rejection of explicit sex-education as proof that she is a proponent of abstinence-only education. Too bad the media didn’t dig a little deeper because they would have discovered that Palin had spoken openly in support of comprehensive sex education during this time.
In fact, weeks later Palin clarified her position on sex education. During a KTOO radio debate Palin spoke further about her support of both abstinence and contraception education:
” I’m pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues. So I am not anti-contraception. But, yeah, abstinence is another alternative that should be discussed with kids. I don’t have a problem with that. That doesn’t scare me, so it’s something I would support also.”
And during the 2008 Presidential campaign Palin spoke again about her support of comprehensive sex education in an interview with People Magazine:
Has this changed how you talk about sex with your other children?
SP: I’ve always been a proponent of making sure kids understand – even in schools – they’d better take preventative measures so that they don’t find themselves in these less than ideal circumstances. Perhaps Bristol could be a good example to other young women that live happens and preventative measures are, first and foremost, the option that should be considered –
Do you mean abstinence or contraception?
SP: Well, both. Ideally abstinence. But we have not been one to say that students, should not know what preventative measures are all about. I’ve been taken aback by some criticism that mainstream media has thrown my way saying, Oh, what a hypocrite she is and she’s now learned her lesson because she’s been against sex education in the schools. And I’m like, when? Where? When have I ever said that there should be no sex education taught in our homes or even in our schools?
Also during the presidential election Palin’s spokeswoman Maria Comella said that Governor Palin stands by her 2006 position and supports a sex education curriculum that covers both abstinence and contraception education.
I know, I know. This was news back in 2008 and the topic of Palin’s sex education stance more often comes up now due to the activism of her daughter Bristol. But it is a rumor that has traction and due to her family circumstances their is a sexist element to this rumor as well. By claiming Palin to be an abstinence-only advocate it becomes fun to mock Palin as the clueless mother of a teenage mom.
We must also correct this rumor in order to make the media culpable. If we do not take them to task are we not giving them the green light to partake in dangerously inaccurate reporting with future women candidates? I’m afraid to find out.