Bristol Palin's launch into the public eye came quickly after her mother's own entrance into the public arena. Her out-of-wedlock pregnancy came under scrutiny after Senator John McCain chose former Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. In her new book, Bristol Palin writes about waking up in a tent and being told by her friend that she had lost her virginity after a night of drinking. She spoke with CT about Christians' approach to abstinence, and her plans post-Levi.
You have said you hate the word "abstinence." Are you concerned by any abstinence messages that Christians have put out?
The word abstinence scares off young adults just because it is so textbook and so structured. That word causes them to lose interest in whatever someone's talking about.
In your book, you described premarital sex as a sin. Do you worry that by calling it a sin, it might distract non-Christians?
You know, it might, but for me I do think of it as a sin. And, if that distracts other readers then I'm sorry, but that's what I believe.
Do you think Christians should change their approach to helping young people deal with the pressures to have premarital sex?
I think the media plays a huge role in premarital sex. There's so much pressure placed on kids, and there's so much that's talked about. I think that it needs to be talked about. It needs to be brought up more that it's not all that great. Why would you want to risk being a teen parent?
A few years ago you said abstinence for teens isn't realistic. Do you still believe that?
You know, that quote was taken out of context. What I was trying to say is it's not realistic for everyone. I know that it's not realistic for every single person. But for me, my sisters, and my family, I believe that that's the right way. It's realistic for a lot of people but certainly not 100 percent of the population.
You wrote that your parents gave you a purity ring. Do you think purity rings and abstinence pledges are effective?
Absolutely. I know lots of girls, lots of girls whose parents gave them abstinence rings and they held true to their word. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of having premarital sex, but from that I have a beautiful child and he is just the light of my life. So I did get blessed with that, but I did disobey my parents and I regret that.
I've heard some complaints that Christians try to make abstinence "cool," when maybe it should not be cool, maybe it should be hard to practice. What messages should Christians be sending?
I just think that they need a different approach to it, a younger approach. If you look at the Candie's Foundation, their approach to teen pregnancy prevention in general is funny. It's fit for regular teens.
In the early portion of your book, you said your virginity was stolen when you were drunk. You recently said that you wouldn't call what happened to you date rape. Why are you hesitant to use that phrase?
I definitely think what happened was bad. But I think that if I had thought it was at all date rape, I wouldn't have dated Levi on and off for the next four or five years. It definitely wasn't date rape or anything like that.
For other women who face similar circumstances and don't remember losing their virginity, how would you help them understand the seriousness of their situation? Do you wonder if not applying the term "date-rape" to your own situation might minimize the gravity of the issue?
If it is rape, of course people need to go forward and report that and seek guidance and help for that. But my situation was definitely not rape. And I use the term stolen as an analogy of "losing my virginity" because that's what it felt like. I'm not talking about that specific night, I'm taking about virginity in general. Having my innocence essentially taken away, it did feel just stolen. I'm just saying it wasn't what I hoped or thought it would be.
Your messages seem focused mostly on abstinence or a safe-sex message, but you write about the decisions women make to abort a baby who has Down syndrome or a baby born out of wedlock.
I am completely pro-life and believe that every human life is so valuable. I think that all women should have their babies. If they don't want them, they can give them up for adoption and there are other options. I would much rather attend a pro-life event than an abstinence type of event just because I'm much more passionate about pro-life things.
I wanted to touch on the parts of your book where you talk about your faith. You wrote that you had never had the same sort of conversion experience as your mother. Was there a point when you had a conversion experience for yourself?
I had always grown up knowing that God existed, that God was there, but I wasn't really close with God until that moment when I hit rock bottom [after having Tripp] and said, "Lord, I'm broken, please fix me." I grew up in a Christian household where I knew that he was there and I knew that I wanted him to guide my life, but I really had my come-to-Jesus-moment that night.
Do you attend a church with your family?
You know, we do on and off in Alaska but our schedule is so hectic right now that we haven't really been able to sit down at a church consistently every Sunday.
You write a lot about your relationship with Levi, saying that he cheated on you "as frequently as he sharpened his hockey sticks." Do you worry that by writing this book, and with his book coming out, you're inviting more media scrutiny in a he-said-she-said battle?
I don't think so. I know his book is not going to be legitimate, that's for sure. I think that people see my authenticity when I do write about everything so candidly, and if Levi wants to come out and make up more lies then so be it. That's just Levi.
You talk about your interactions with John McCain's daughter. "Every time we saw Meghan, she seemed to be constantly checking us out, comparing my family to hers and complaining," you wrote. "Oh the complaining." Do you worry people might see some of the things you wrote as defensive?
You know, if people actually look at the situation and look at the things that Meghan says about my family when she goes on these talk shows and she makes up stupid stuff and relegates my mom to stupid things, I think they'll see that my one response is nothing compared to what she says about my family on a daily basis.
Transitioning to your experience on Dancing with the Stars, people's comments about your weight seemed to impact you. How should Christian women think about their body image?
I'm a normal sized girl. I'm not a size double zero; I don't weigh 90 pounds. I'm a healthy girl. I'm an athlete. I'm strong. I'm tough. And that's how women should be. That's how they should be built. People just need to be confident in their own skin and be proud of themselves.
I saw recent reports about your jaw surgery.
That was definitely more of a medical procedure, and I've already addressed it, but again, women need to be proud of themselves and be confident and happy.
Whether or not you've chosen this path, a lot of what you've been known for so far is related to your sexuality and your relationship with Levi. How do you want to move on and focus on your future goals?
I think that I separated myself from that a long time ago. This book just retouches on it. But Tripp and I live a positive and productive life. I get to go and speak to pro-life groups a lot, and we're working on a project coming up, shooting a show that's charity-based. We're going to do whatever God wants us to do.
I noticed the co-author of your book is Nancy French, who started the website evangelicalsformitt.org. If your mom does run for President, will that make things awkward for you?
No, I don't think so. Regardless of who she votes for politically or anything like that we're still going to be really close.
Speaking of the race, some candidates like John Thune or Mitch Daniels passed on running for President because of family considerations. Is a presidential race something your family is ready for?
Um, I think my family has shown the country that we're capable of handling anything. If my mom decided to run for President we would be right there behind her, supporting her in any way we could.
And you know what her plans are?
Yeah, I'm pretty sure I know. We talk all the time. What's said at our kitchen table will remain there until she wants to make a decision publicly. We'll wait to hear that.
Do you feel like your mother has experienced extra media scrutiny?
Yeah, I think that people treat her poorly, they treat her with no respect, and I think it's because they're envious of her. She's got a good family, she's got a good husband, she's got awesome support, she's got God on her side, and I think people are envious of that. They're envious that she carries herself so well, that she's smart. There are lots of vicious people out there.
You said she has God on her side—because she's a Christian? Or because she prays?
We all have God on our side. We all know at the end of the day that we're serving him, and we're really confident with our religion.
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Not Afraid of Life is available from ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.
Previous Christianity Today coverage of Bristol Palin includes:
The Glamorous Life of the Pregnant Teenager | Do pop culture's portrayals of teen pregnancy harm young women? (July 30, 2010)
Sarah Palin's Daughter Is Pregnant | (September 1, 2008)
Reaction to Bristol Palin's Pregnancy | (September 1, 2008)
The New Pro-Life Surge | Political gains by U.S. conservatives unleash waves of anti-abortion legislation. (June 10, 2011)
Pregnant Pause | MTV's Teen Mom might be sending an abstinence message after all. (January 11, 2011)
White House Grants $27 Million in Pregnancy Aid | Pro-life groups applauded the administration's move but remain skeptical over framing grants as 'common ground.' (October 1, 2010)