Sex on the small screen
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "The Secret Life of the American Teenager." "16 and Pregnant." "Teen Mom." Each of these series center around one main idea: teen sex. And each show receives millions of viewers each week.
Each show runs ads to encourage viewers to inform themselves about the consequences of sex, but how true are they in representing these consequences? Do the shows truly portray teen pregnancy as it is in the real world, or do they transform it into a glamorous façade of a romanticized future?
Let's start with the first series to air: "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," which began on ABC Family in 2008. The main character is Amy Juergens, an innocent girl with good grades, friends and a future whose whole life is turned around by a one-night stand at band camp.
The show highlights how a pregnancy can have a substantial effect on not only teen parents and their families, but also on their peer groups. It's relatable; however, it's not realistic.
That's because after Amy has her baby, the plot takes many drastic turns. Her baby daddy Ricky, who had no interest in her at the beginning of the show, falls in love and proposes to her. Ricky's ex-girlfriend, Adrian, seduces Amy's ex-boyfriend for revenge, but her plan backfires when she gets pregnant; later in the show she has a miscarriage. Amy's friend, Grace, a devout Christian, develops an almost unrecognizable personality when she begins to have multiple sex partners.
Unlike "Secret Life," MTV's "16 and Pregnant," which began in 2009, documents real-life girls' decisions and lifestyle changes when they become pregnant. Some give up babies for adoption; others decide to keep their child. Some have supportive boyfriends and families, and others are on their own. At the end of the season, Dr. Drew Pinsky hosts a live reunion show in which the girls share their baby experiences after the cameras stopped rolling.
The show is quite practical in warning teens about the consequences of sex, but its sequel, "Teen Mom," which monitors several mothers from "16 and Pregnant," takes a different spin. Much like "Secret Life," "Teen Mom" diverts attention away from its main purpose of sexual awareness and, like most reality TV shows, uses drama -- such as fighting, violence and cheating -- to gain viewers.
The effect of every popular TV show is influence, and because teens are the primary audience for these shows, many young adults look up to and emotionally connect with the moms on them. Not only that, but the moms receive fame for doing something society sees as "unacceptable." Most of the mothers on "Teen Mom" have been in the tabloids, and two (Amber Portwood from season 1 and Jenelle Evans from season 2) were even arrested!
Since pop culture is an enormous part of teen life, it is clear that these shows, as well as many others, have an influence on how teens act. Even shows like "Glee" encourage teen promiscuity through suggestive scenes with no talk of condoms or safe sex.
On the other hand, these shows, when accurately portraying the subject, are good ways to teach kids about sex. The parental "sex talk" is one of the most awkward conversations a kid will ever have. It's much easier for teens to flip on the TV for sex ed than to initiate a "How does this work?" discussion, especially with an adult.
In the end, most teen pregnancy shows are not real indicators of the effects of sex. Although it is true that they touch on many physical and emotional consequences of it, the fact still remains that there is too much glitz and glamour present to map out the do's and don'ts of teen sex.
All teens can do is become informed from multiple reliable sources (counselors, health teachers, teen pregnancy websites, clinics, etc.). Only then can they use pop culture to form their opinions about sex. One thing that most of these shows fail to mention is that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to sex, as long as you stay true to your feelings and morals.