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Media Spotlight on Teen Pregnancy and Sexuality Education

The issue of teen pregnancy was brought to the forefront early in September with the revelation that the 17-year-old daughter of Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), Republican Vice Presidential Candidate, is pregnant. Soon after this announcement, major media outlets across the world began to draw attention to Palin’s position on sex education and to the wider debate over sex education in this country.

As the Los Angeles Times explained, “sex education was thrust into the spotlight” by the revelation. [i] The press covered the candidates’ positions on sex education, statistics on the rising rate of teen birth, data on federal funding streams for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, and studies demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula. On the whole, the media portrayed comprehensive sex education in a positive light while presenting the mounting arguments against abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

For example, one New York Times op-ed piece stated, “We need to take some bold steps beyond the borders of our moralizing and discomfort and create a sex education infrastructure that actually acknowledges reality and protects our children from unwanted pregnancies, or worse.” [ii]

Similarly, ABC reported, “Sexual health experts overwhelmingly agree that such programs represent an ineffective strategy in reducing teen birthrates, favoring instead what is known as comprehensive sexuality education. Such programs incorporate advice on using contraceptives and safe sex practices to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.” [iii]

A Washington Post article labeled Bristol’s pregnancy as “the ultimate teachable moment,” giving parents the opportunity to talk to their kids about sex and Americans a chance to discuss the issue of sex education. The piece also stated, “the message that every family should take from Bristol Palin’s pregnancy is: It can happen here.” [iv]

“It’s an opportunity to start a national dialogue about this important issue that too often goes unnoticed. It’s not just about one case, but the thousands of young women who need help preventing pregnancy,” said Martha Kempner, vice president for information and communications at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.



[i] Seema Mehta, “Palin appears to disagree with McCain on sex education,” Los Angeles Times, 6 September 2008, accessed 15 September 2008 <,0,3119305.story>.
[ii] Charles M. Blow, “Let’s Talk About Sex,” The New York Times, 6 September 2008, accessed 15 September 2008 <>.
[iii] Dan Childs, “Palin Daughter’s Pregnancy Spurs Sex Ed Debate,” ABC, (3 September 2008), accessed 15 September 2008 <>.
[iv] Ruth Marcus, “The Lesson of Bristol Palin,” Washington Post, 2 September 2008, accessed 15 September 2008 <>.