Palin, Politics and Premarital Sex — Counteracting the “Juno” Effect

Sarah, Todd & Bristol PalinLevi JohnstonBristol Palin

I’m torn. I’m certainly excited about a vice-presidential candidate that is a strong, conservative, tax cutting, corruption-busting, pro-life mother and wife. Sarah Palin looks like a wonderful person with a great family. She appears to be a true patriot. I’m excited about her potential as a political leader. I’m sure all the intense media attention has been a huge burden on their family. I feel for them.

But my work as a marriage educator and advocate gives me a different focus and concern than those who are trying to destroy Sarah Palin’s political candidacy with unfounded hack jobs. My concern is for the young people, and even those not so young, who are receiving yet another media message that teen sex and pregnancy don’t appear to be that big of a problem.

Premarital sex and unwed parenthood are huge problems that are occurring far too often, affecting many lives in painful ways. The news of Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, being pregnant and unmarried has been heart wrenching to me.

I understand that life happens. People make choices. We all do things we wish we hadn’t. I feel for Bristol to have to have her life situation publicly known and discussed. She is unfortunately paying a high price for her actions and for her mother’s political position. But too many other ears are listening to our response to not address the unfortunate realities of the situation.

When the Palins found that they had to address the rumors, I just wish they had expressed some sadness about the situation. This may be something they plan to do at some point, but I just wish it would have been sooner than later.


Nearly every way you look at it, premarital sex has consequences that are not in the best interest of those involved (baby included). Educations are cut short, lives are inevitably altered, parenthood is preemptively begun, and marriage (when there is one) starts on shaky ground. Make no mistake, the child is always a gift from God, but the context in which the child is born is always less than ideal.

Lucky for Bristol she has a loving, supportive family that will help her through this difficult time and situation. But, one of the things that I think bothers me the most about the situation is that while her parents are trying to be loving and supportive, no message is being sent about the poor choices that were obviously made, or that sex outside of marriage is not a good idea. Such a message may have been conveyed privately, but it’s the public message I am most concerned about.

In Sarah Palin’s public statement about their daughter’s pregnancy, prior to her big acceptance speech, she focuses on being “proud” of Bristol for “having” the baby as opposed to “aborting” it. Choosing life over abortion is always commendable, and Sarah, herself, sets an inspiring example in giving life to a Down syndrome child.

I only wish there would have been some mention of sadness over Bristol’s situation. Making the best of the situation doesn’t mean you have to make it appear that there are no unfortunate consequences with which to contend, especially when you know that many impressionable ears are listening.

Research shows that young women do a cost-benefit analysis regarding such decisions, and are apparently deciding more and more that the costs of unwed pregnancy are not that high.

This is my primary concern. Millions of sons and daughters are listening to this situation and to what is said about sex and pregnancy outside of marriage. This article is not about judging the Palins, but is about taking a parental perspective and a preventative approach to prevent unwed sex and pregnancy. People learn by example, for good or for ill.

You may have heard of the 2007 movie called “Juno” where a young teen gets pregnant. Since then we have repeatedly seen the “Juno” effect in many other’s lives. We hear of the “Juno” effect in discussions of Jamie Lynn Spears and the recent unfortunate decision of 17 teenage girls in a Massachusetts high school to purposefully get themselves pregnant. They apparently had little understanding of or concern for the consequences to themselves, their families and most importantly to the children who will likely be raised without a father (if they even know who the fathers are).

I just hate to see Bristol Palin and the statements made about her situation become a “Bristol Effect” on other young women who see no negative consequences to having sex and getting pregnant outside of marriage. We need to be more proactive in de-glamorizing teen sex and pregnancy.

I don’t want teenagers to come away with the idea that it is just fine to have sex with your high school boyfriend. It probably seems that if they do get pregnant, the boyfriend will gallantly sweep them off their feet into marriage, and everyone will lavish attention and accolades on them for some aspect of the situation in an effort to make the best of the situation. Few of the difficult realities they will encounter are even mentioned.

Here are some of the many questions and consequences teens need to think about:

  • Will the young woman be able to finish her education?
  • Will she be able to provide for her child, should she find herself in additional unfortunate circumstances?
  • Will the boyfriend be interested in marrying her?
  • Would two teenagers be ready for the rigors of marriage and parenting?
  • Would such a young couple have what it takes to start their marriage already swimming upstream and still make a long-term success of it?
  • Would the child be better off being given to two loving, mature, and married parents who have been praying for a child to adopt?
  • Will the pregnant teenager end up as a single mom anyway like so many teenage mothers?
  • Is the child going to end up not knowing or being raised by his/her father, because the father was unable to cut it in the rigors of marriage and parenthood?
  • And if the child was given to another family to adopt, what kind of questions and heartache will that cause the child somewhere down the road?

My heart goes out to the Palin family at this time, in so many ways. I don’t want to add any burden to what they already have. But I imagine that with a focus on what impression is being received by other young people, Sarah Palin, and even her daughter, would probably agree that some mention of the sadness over the situation would have been appropriate.

Bristol doesn’t seem like the kind of girl that couldn’t handle her mother making a statement for the benefit of other young impressionable minds who may use Bristol’s poor choices to encourage theirs as well. I even asked my own daughter if it would have been okay for a mother to express sadness over the situation. She agreed that that would have been doable to share feelings of regret for the benefit of others.

Such a public statement would do much to contain the ongoing damage that is being done in our society with the abundant messages that sex outside of marriage is fine, that unwed motherhood is fine, that fathers are inconsequential to the well-being of a child, etc.

I know the Palin family has a lot of other things to worry about at this time, but as a conservative, pro-marriage and family advocate, I just wish things had been said a little differently than for their situation to potentially contribute to the terrible precedent that is being set regarding premarital sex and unwed parenthood.

Let it be clear that children are entitled to be reared by two loving parents—by a mother and a father—who are sufficiently mature and selfless, so that they can do what it takes to raise a child. Let it be clear that there is a good reason God simply asks that sex be reserved for marriage.

Contrary to the “safe sex” advocates, pre-marital abstinence IS the only way to assure that children are not aborted, but are raised by those who are ready and willing to make the necessary sacrifices for parenthood. And condoms are not the answer, since most teens notoriously fail to use them.

I don’t have enough personal insight about Bristol and her family, or Jamie Lynn Spears and her family, or the 17 high school girls and their families to know why they made the poor choices they’ve made. But they apparently felt the benefits outweighed the costs.

I do know that many young people are able to make the difficult choices to save sexual behavior for marriage, even in this sexually saturated culture.


Some of the important components of helping our children make it through their young adult years and into marriage before they partake of God’s gift of sexual intimacy include:

  • Expectations
  • Education, and
  • Emotional Connection


Children need to understand their parents’ expectation that they remain morally chaste until marriage. For the 70 or so percent of the population that consider themselves to be Christian, including God in the discussion is critical. This is not just about parental expectations, but about God’s expectations. God is the one that asks us to save sex for marriage.

Our children may know that we would be terribly heartbroken to receive the news of sex or a pregnancy outside of marriage, but if we have done our job well, then they will be more heartbroken about letting God down than in letting their parents down.

It seems like our culture no longer even expects kids to not have sex. I think that’s crazy. It may be difficult, but it’s not impossible to make choices that keep you away from situations and overwhelming temptations.

There’s a pernicious and pervasive message out there that kids are just going to do it anyway, so you better give them a condom. That’s garbage.

Parents and other responsible citizens have a moral obligation to set the societal expectation that premarital chastity IS POSSIBLE, and that we believe they can do it!

The expectation I am talking about here is basically the concept of providing a foundation of faith—faith that you believe it’s possible, faith that you believe they can succeed at overcoming the pitfalls and temptations, and faith that you know that God won’t ask anything of them that isn’t possible, nor that He won’t help us with it.


Parents must not just set expectations for their children then throw them out into the world. They must teach them why it’s important to go against the societal tide of sexual promiscuity. Parents must openly teach them how to stay away from the dangers, and how to proactively create a life that positively minimizes vulnerabilities and temptations.

This education includes spiritual training, as well as mental and emotional and social training. Role playing situations with our children that they may encounter, and teaching them how to appropriately and effectively handle such situations are part of the necessary parenting that’s required in our day and time.

Discussions about sex, dating, relationships, moral standards, social events, and other activities are all-important issues that must be addressed with our young people. Research shows that alcohol consumption is a significant contributing factor in premarital sex, so teach and help your children avoid it.

Steady dating with its ever-increasing emotional intimacy, or dating those who have questionable character are other areas to discuss with your children. Parents need to help their children navigate the critical teenage and young adult years by teaching them and showing them what healthy relationships look like and how to create them.

Emotional Connection

This brings us to the third component of preventing premarital sexual experimentation—emotional connection. Setting expectations, and even educating and preparing your children for the dangers they may encounter is not quite enough. Children must also feel an emotional connection or love between themselves and their parents.

It’s the easiest thing in the world for a young person to disregard any parental teachings or standards if they feel no love or respect for or from their parents. It’s so much easier for children to do all they can to made good choices and to do those things that their parents have taught them if they feel our love and our sincere concern for their needs.

Parents must spend not just quality time, but also quantity time in order to meet the needs of children. Learning what makes your children feel loved and doing those things regularly is your best defense against the destructive tide of drugs, sex, alcohol, pornography etc. that plague our society and our youth. This is no easy task.

Good parenting takes time and effort. What if children need your time and attention, but you are too busy? What if children need your patience, but you are too frazzled?

As a marriage educator I can’t leave out the fact that the state of your marriage has a huge effect on the well-being of your children, and significantly affects their vulnerability, or lack thereof, to destructive outside influences.

Parenting isn’t easy, and even the best parenting is susceptible to children making other choices. I think parents generally do the best they know how.

I hope the best for Bristol Palin and her boyfriend. I especially pray for their soon-to-be-born child.

I hope that someone somewhere reading this will think twice about the choices and the consequences of sex outside of marriage. I hope that more parents will do a better job teaching and preparing their children for the challenges they face.

God is a pretty smart guy. He’s still got the best plan out there for our peace and happiness and well-being. I hope we will be smart enough to listen.


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  • klover September 4, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Thank you again Laura for your insightful perspective. I too wish “public officials” can tell it as it is and not just be concerned about “their image.” It would do wonders if Mrs. Palin would speak plainly and fully about permarital sex!

    I full heartily agree that our children need to feel our love before they can listen to our words.

  • September 5, 2008 at 11:06 am

    I object to the reference to the girls in MA planning to “get themselves pregnant.” This kind of language is inaccurate and steers attention away from the fact that every pregnancy involves a mother and a father, both of whom will be accountable before God, if not society. No one gets herself pregnant. Let’s be clear about that.

    • Laura M. Brotherson September 5, 2008 at 11:15 am,8599,1815845,00.html

      From what I can see from the many newsstories about the 17 high school girls who got pregnant it was very much a consciously planned thing. They made a “pregnancy pact” with each other, were disappointed when their pregnancy tests came back negative, and even sought out a “24 year-old homeless guy” to be one of the sperm donors.

      I’m just trying to add some reality of the negative consequences of premarital sex and pregnancy to the discussion, so that the “Juno” effect doesn’t continue uncontested. It’s time to “un-glamorize” premarital sex and unwed teen pregnancy.

  • Ann September 6, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    Dear Laura, I can understand your feelings about Sarah Palin’s daughter.But, the lecture is like closing the barn door after the horse is out! The best one can do under their circumstances is love the child, love the grandchild and fully accept the young couple into the loving family,like the Palin’s seem to be doing.Sometimes we can be too judgmental about parents that are trying to do what Heavenly Father would wish them to do.I’m fairly sure they have had talks with their daughter and son-in-law to be. But now they just have to get on with the circumstances….

  • Laura M. Brotherson September 6, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Below are the comments I have moved from the Comments page on our site.


    Subject: Reply to Comments about Palin & Premarital Sex article

    I appreciate everyone’s comments. I am sorry to see that some of you have misunderstood my purpose in writing the article about the Palin’s situation and it’s impact on the young people of the world. This is not about politics, nor do I have any political motive. In fact I was very complimentary of Sarah Palin and her candidacy. My sole intention is to offer a reminder that premarital sex and pregnancy are not a good idea. There is so much of glamorizing premarital sex and pregnancy in our media that I don’t think it out of line to attempt to counteract that. I believe the “non-glamorous” points of premarital sex and pregnancy are not heard enough, and while some parents do a good job of providing this teaching, there is still a huge influence of the media messages that they hear even more often. I am not lecturing or condemning Bristol (what’s done is done) anymore than I would condemn a son or a daughter. Of course you love and support your children regardless of their choices, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t publicly express some regret for the situation, so that others will not get the mistaken message that it’s not a big deal. As a marriage and family educator, the article was merely a means of encouraging another approach and sharing some insights into how to help our children avoid such a situation. Again, I appreciate all your heart-felt comments. I ask that we move this discussion to the Blog

    where the full article “Palin, Politics & Premarital Sex — Counteracting the ‘Juno’ Effect” can be read and where a discussion can be had more easily.

    • UnderTheSun September 6, 2008 at 10:20 pm

      You took the words out of my mouth. Sarah was perfectly supportive. But a simple indication of disapproval with her actions would have made all the difference in presenting a complete picture of loving the sinner but hating the sin. Here’s my guess: That Sarah and her husband really do disapprove of Bristol’s pre-marital sex, and that they have discussed that matter with Bristol already. But there may have never been a more hotly anticipated, high-pressured speech ever given, and the desire to focus on what Sarah focused and not be side-tracked by a family matter are probably what ruled the evening. To have made a statement of disapproval of Bristol would have taken the whole topic of teen morals to center stage, even if only for a moment, and could have easily dominated the press that followed to the exclusion of other topics she raised, weakening the overall effectiveness. She chose to not open that door, and I think that was not only wise but appropriate and fair. She can always tackle that topic at a subsequent forum, even if the tabloids won’t wait until then. So I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt for now. After she’s in the White House, we can always ask her to comment more thoroughly on how she has dealt with the matter as a parent.

      • Laura M. Brotherson September 6, 2008 at 10:38 pm

        Hi UnderTheSun,

        You bring up a couple of points. My concern is not over the private discussion the Palin’s had with their daughter. I agree with you that they likely handled the whole thing very well with their daughter. My concern is for the continuing fuel that their situation and their (pre-speech) statement gave to the “popularity” of premarital pregnancy. Maybe people are just not familiar with the realities of the “Juno” effect. (I’d recommend people do a Google search and read some of the many articles to see just how serious unwed motherhood is.)

        My second point is that my desire for Sarah Palin to express some regret about her unwed pregnant daughter had nothing to do with her big national speech. My concern was over the comments that were made prior to the speech in response to the news about her daughter. This is where some word of remorse was needed when she initially addressed the reports about her daughter’s unwed pregnancy.

        You are right on the money that her hugely anticipated acceptance speech was not the forum for that. I agree that unwed pregnancy did not need to be given more airtime. I’m glad she didn’t really bring it up at all in the speech. It would have just brought more “positive” attention to it especially if she again did not express it in the context of it not being a good thing.

        This is not about judging the Palins, and this has nothing to do with politics. (The only reason it has anything to do with politics is because Sarah Palin happens to be a political figure.) This has everything to so with a concern for young people who are being influenced about choices that lead to premarital sex and unwed parenthood. This has everything to do with trying to change or counteract the prominent societal message that implies that premarital sex and pregnancy are no big deal and can be easily resolved with no negative consequences. This is the lie that I’d like to counteract.

  • HappyLDSWifeMom September 7, 2008 at 11:54 pm


    I have no doubt your reasons for writing that column in Meridian Magazine was because of your line of work and the problems you see with society saying it is no big deal for a teen to get pregnant and to have a baby out of wedlock.

    I agree that we as parents need to TEACH our children and quit worrying about making them feel bad or hurting their feelings.

    The Lord set the perfect pattern in the scriptures for parenting…we need to get back to that way of parenting and quit letting the media dictate what and how to teach our children. We are losing our youth in the church in record numbers to the evils of our day. We need to be more bold and direct in teaching them about morality and dress standards and have the courage to tell them what they need to hear…even if they don’t like it. They will thank you for it some day…trust me. My kids are all raised. When they were young and I would see behavior that caused their dad and I concern, we sat them down and had serious talks with them. We did not force them but we taught them the Lord’s standards and the consequences of not following or living them and the blessings of making righteous choices. They all served missions and married in the temple and are raising their families in the Gospel. The tough love paid off.

    They have thanked us for it. I thank the Lord for giving us the courage and insight into what adn when to teach them correct principles so they could govern themselves.

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