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The Fall 2008 Season: Teens Having Sex 



Last year, the fall premiere season of the broadcast networks’ new programs was characterized by an overwhelming emphasis on bizarre sexual practices. This fall, broadcast TV is again focused on sex…with several disturbing trends emerging. One of these is an overwhelmingly positive focus on teenagers having sex.


The CW kicked off the trend towards teen sex with its first episode of 90210, which featured a teenage boy receiving oral sex in the high school parking lot. Naturally, this was shown in the program’s opening minutes…at the very beginning of the Family Hour.


After this auspicious start, the network continued its trend of glamorizing teenagers having sex entirely without consequences. In ongoing storylines on Gossip Girl, Nate continues his “relationship” with “the Duchess,” a much older woman and mother of one of his friends. Meanwhile, on the September 15th episode, Blair’s promiscuous former boyfriend (and would-be rapist) Chuck laments to friend Serena his inability to achieve an erection with any other girl:


Serena: “You've had different girls every day…You must have tried –“

Chuck: “Everything from the neurotic to the pharmaceutical.”

Chuck suggests that he must have sex with Blair again:

Chuck: “One more go around, just to clear the pipes.”

Serena: “You are not using Blair as sexual Drano.”


And on the September 29th episode of Gossip Girl (8:00 p.m. ET), teens Dan and Chuck visit a strip club, drink and take drugs, after which Chuck propositions a woman, believing her to be a prostitute. Just a typical night in the life of an average teenager…or so CW would have teens believe.


Not to be outdone, the September 30th episode of the CW’s new show Privileged showed the teenaged Rose buying a pornographic movie.  When her mentor Megan confronts her, Rose gives the following condescending speech:


“I'm not a virgin!…And I do use condoms. And I got my HPV vaccination last year, so we don’t have to talk about all the diseases -- warts, herpes, chlamydia…And just to be safe, I am on the Pill. I mean, there is no way I'm getting preggers in high school!”


Throughout this scene, zany “comedic” music plays in the background, as the programs follows TV’s tradition of making an older and supposedly wiser mentor look like an out-of-touch fool. (After all, every 15-year-old knows far more about sex than 30- or 40-year-olds!)


When Megan states that “the only remaining issue” is the pornography, Rose asks, “Why is it an issue?” Once again, Megan is flustered and babbles incoherently, finally asking to take the pornographic movie from Rose. Rose reluctantly surrenders it, but states that she will need it back the next night, as her boyfriend is coming over…and, presumably, they intend to watch it together.


After Megan watches the movie so that she can discuss it with Rose, Rose demands they watch it together – “I’m gonna with you or without you!” After Megan tells Rose that she should not use pornography as a guide on how to deal with sex, and that she is too young to have sex anyway, Rose launches into a defiant tirade:


“I don’t care what you think! You don’t know me! And I don’t have to justify myself to you or to anyone else!”


(All that is missing from this scene is for Rose to declare, “You’re not the boss of me!” and run into her room and slam the door.)


Nor is CW the only network on the “all teens must have sex” bandwagon. ABC’s Private Practice offered another example of teens defying their parents, their mentors and their own best interests by insisting that no one can stop them from having sex; and, as with Privileged, all the adults – doctors, parents and others – are completely inept, totally at a loss as to how to urge teenagers not to sleep together. Dr. Cooper examines his patient, the 14-year-old Dean, as they converse:


Cooper: “Everything at school good?”

Dean: “Good! I have a girlfriend, Amy. She's amazing!”

Cooper: “You taking it slow?”

Dean: “We haven't done it yet. But she's going on the Pill, so we will, soon. Believe me when I say, I will not be the first of my friends.”

Cooper: ”Oh I know. But condoms, okay? STDs don't care about the Pill. Condoms are your friend. Lots of condoms! Or better yet, wait. If this is the girl, you got to enjoy the time before, because once you're on the other side you can't go back. Hello? You just heard blah blah blah blah blah?”

Dean: “Dr. Freedman, I'm going to have sex. And I really like her. She's not all skanky. It’s right. I like, love her and everything.”

Cooper: “Well, now I go back to my condom speech. I am your friendly neighborhood condom pusher. Condoms!”


The melodrama comes about in this episode because Dean is HIV-positive, but his parents have asked the doctor not to reveal this fact to him, wishing the boy to preserve his childhood. Cooper is in a bind due to doctor-patient confidentiality (as laws in many states say that parents have no right to be informed about their own children’s sexual activities). He tries to approach the subject obliquely, telling Dean’s parents that many teens have sex:


Dean’s mother: “There is a girl that Dean likes. But sex is a long way off.”

Cooper: “I’ve had pregnant thirteen-year-olds whose parents said the same thing. Dean needs to know his HIV status before he starts experimenting.”


Note that at no time is it presented as a realistic possibility that either Dean’s parents or his doctor should simply tell him that whether or not to have sex is an adult decision, and that he is not yet an adult; that there are emotional and psychological consequences to sexual activity, as well as physical ones; or that teenaged relationships are not stable, and that involving sex in them may cause future regrets.


Ultimately, Dean does have sex with his girlfriend, which action causes them and their families much anguish; but the idea that the 14-year-old Dean and his girlfriend could have avoided all these problems had they simply not had sex is not mentioned.  


Of course, to Hollywood, sex is an activity to be indulged in without the slightest thought, and it never, ever has negative consequences. Now added to this longtime perspective is a seemingly an organized agenda on the part of the entertainment industry to convince viewers that 14-year-olds are adults, fully competent to make adult decisions about drinking, using drugs and having sexual relationships…and that the most “responsible” way of helping teens be happy is to urge them to use condoms, rather than abstaining from sexual activity for which they are not ready.


To those in charge of the entertainment industry, teenagers having sex with one another seems to be the ideal state of affairs. Of course, those who would argue that it might be best for teens to defer this most intimate and personal of experiences until they are older are portrayed as clueless and hopelessly old-fashioned…not only by the programs, but by the teenage characters in the programs themselves.  


Hollywood’s producers would no doubt hide behind the excuse that this is “just a TV show,” and that what they show has no influence whatsoever on their teen viewers. But when top fashion designers compete to have their clothing seen on Gossip Girl, and when corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars on TV commercials aimed at children and teens, such an argument seems spurious at best. TV does not force teens to engage in sexual activity; but by portraying such activity as normal and even exciting, it is definitely encouraging teens to make decisions they may regret.


TV Trends: This column was compiled from reports by the Parents Television Council’s Analysis staff.


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