The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Sexclamations: A New Age of Impression for Televison

4 min read


In the past decade, the images of teens having sexual encounters have increased steadily. With predecessors like “Dawson’s Creek” and “90210” to encourage and inspire shows like “The O.C.” and “Gossip Girl,” these programs  supposedly taint the minds of young impressionable teens everywhere.  There are even beliefs that shows with adults in adult situations influence teens to develop at a quicker rate than most parents are willing to accept.

In an National Public Radio (NPR) interview with a RAND (a research and development institution) representative, it was stated that teens are twice as likely to have sex when they watch such sexual content on a regular basis. Anita Chandra, the lead author of the study, said in 2008 that this exposure leads teens to believe that there is little risk when engaging in sex without contraception.

Instead of going out with one of my million boyfriends on Valentines Day, a friend and I decided to stay in and veg out in front of the tube with a bag of Valentine M&M’s and a liter of Diet Coke. As we flipped through the channels, by some divine intervention, the remote slipped from my fingers just as we landed on the Lifetime Channel.

And what, pray tell, was on this wonderful channel? A made-for-T.V. movie called “Girl, Positive,” about a  teen who has unprotected sex and then discovers that the boy she slept with was not only an active drug user with needles but also HIV-positive. The rest of the story was pretty much a bunch of people coming out and saying they were HIV positive before the heroine of the story gained enough strength within to live out her life as positive, both in her blood stream and her attitude.

Despite its expected second-rate acting and plotline, I couldn’t take my eyes away from it. It was like watching a car wreck. My friend made me change the channel after an absorbing twenty minutes and then pretty much every time she left the room I would steal a quick glance back into HIV world.

Now, I know I wrote about teen sex last week and I’m not one to repeat topics frequently, but this encounter of morals and bashed childhoods was inspiring.

Has any one else noticed that there seems to be a new theme on the crappier channels of television?

I mean, I can understand Lifetime doing something like this (one of my favorite movies on that channel is about a Mormon girl who becomes pregnant because of rape and then investigators have to figure out who it was before she is forced out of her community), but now ABC Family has gotten on board with this “sex repercussion” theme with the show “The Secret Life of an American Teenager.”
For those of you who haven’t seen one of the thousands of daily ads, “The Secret Life” is about a girl who got “knocked up” because of one tryst with a cocky guy. Now she has to deal with being huge and in high school while her baby daddy and some other random dude who’s in love with her duke it out for her affection (why do the pregnant ones always get the guys?).

So, with RAND’s study, apparently affecting major television spectacle story lines, the question remains: is it effective?
For this, I went straight to the expert: my cute and popular 15-year-old step-sister, Rennie. In a Facebook message interview, I asked her if “The Secret Life” is teaching her the valuable lesson of keeping her legs closed.

“Whaaat?” She responded, “Haha, LOL. No, I don’t like that show. I actually think the acting kinda sucks. The story line is good but it doesn’t have the best writing. How r u btw?”

I wrote back that I was fine and asked if the show is influencing any of her friends at all with the values of sex.

“Idk,” she wrote. “Like, Liza’s mom has her watch it with her and her little ‘sis sometimes. I think she likes it but we both love ‘Gossip Girl.’  The writing’s much better.”

So does this mean that my step-sister is headed down the path of illicit sex and drama? Probably not. She and her mom are quite open about the whole idea of sex, and, whenever I bring up the topic of sex, she giggles at me awkwardly before telling me that she’s definitely not ready.

So is it her friend Liza that’s keeping her on the path of goodness and righteousness? Maybe. But I do know with “Gossip Girl” slowly poisoning her mind, I will be keeping a closer eye on her.