Sex in the MTV Generation

Today, we have a special guest blog post from Sheena Bosket, co-coordinator of LSRJ’s chapter at Georgia State University.

Last night, I watched 2 episodes of the MTV show “Sex…with Mom and Dad.” The show attempts to facilitate a dialogue with teenagers and their parents about sex, where both parties can air their grievances, concerns, etc. with the help of board-certified sex and relationship therapist Dr. Drew. Both episodes that I watched dealt with teenagers who had been with a number of sexual partners and parents/siblings that were concerned about them. However, in the first episode, the teenager was female and in the second episode, the teenager was male. I was struck, though not surprised, by the contrast in treatment of the two teenagers by Dr. Drew and by the voiceovers used to describe them. In the voiceovers in the episode featuring the female teenager, she was repeatedly referred to as “promiscuous” and was said to “sleep around.” In the voiceovers for the male teenager, he was referred to as a “player” and a “male whore,” a phrase that is offensive to women because by using the qualifier “male,” the suggestion is made that usually a “whore” is female.


As the episodes progress, Dr. Drew uses exercises to open up the dialogue between the teenagers and their parents. The first exercise is called “The Icebreaker,” which is meant to encourage both the teenager and her/his parents to share parts of their sexual past and openly communicate with each other. The second exercise is called “The Breakthrough” and is meant to show the teenager the potential consequences of his/her actions. After each exercise, the parents and teenager meet with Dr. Drew to discuss how the exercise affected them. In the episode featuring the female teenager, even before he assigned the first exercise, Dr. Drew took a noticeably paternalistic approach to discussing her sexual history with her by suggesting that her number of sexual partners was most likely a sign of internal turmoil, which may have been true, but does not necessarily have to be the case. When the teenager was hesitant to reveal to Dr. Drew how many sexual partners she had been with, Dr. Drew asked her if she was afraid that people were going to judge her if she revealed her number. When the teenager responded affirmatively, Dr. Drew told her that her fear suggests that she feels guilty about how many people she’s been with. I don’t think this is necessarily true. I think her fear shows that she is aware of the society she lives in. The fact of the matter is if you are a teenage girl in America and it’s decided that you’ve been with more than your fair share of sexual partners, people are going to judge you. That’s just true. Accept it Dr. Drew. Also, she may have been hesitant to reveal her sexual past because she knows that her peers watch this show and she didn’t want to be called names at school; a justifiable fear that should have been acknowledged by Dr. Drew. He also asked her how many sexual partners she planned on having in her life and told her that he was concerned about “the numbers,” a concern that was noticeably absent from his discussion with the male teenager who, interestingly enough, had had more sexual partners than the female teenager.


In the female teenager’s episode, her “Breakthrough” exercise was designed to show her the “weight of her choices.” She, her mother, and her sister all participated in the exercise, which involved all of them going on a nature walk together. Along the way, each person had to pick up a rock for each sexual partner they had been with and put it in a bucket that they carried with them for the duration of the walk. The teenager had the most sexual partners of the three and therefore, she had the heaviest bucket and the most to consider. I do not feel positively about this exercise because I feel the subtext of it was that the teenager should feel guilty about the number of sexual partners she’s had or that she should be punished for having as many partners as she’s had. If Dr. Drew was really concerned about this teenager understanding the consequences of her actions, a much better exercise would have been for each rock to have the name of a possible STI she could have gotten written on it along with a rock that had “pregnancy” written on it, as this is another consequence of her choices.


Now, I haven’t said all of this just to vent. Well, maybe some of it. I’ve said it to point out that this television show, which was meant to facilitate sexual dialogue between the teenagers who watch it and their parents as well, may also have a very substantial negative effect: instead of encouraging young women to talk to their parents about what’s going on in their lives, it may convince them to keep their sex lives to themselves and be ashamed of them as a result of the sexist treatment of young women on the show. By choosing to create a television show like this, MTV has also created for itself extra responsibility. We live in a society where some young people are still being “educated” about sex solely through “abstinence-only” programs. Many of these programs give young people erroneous information and if they feel that they can’t turn to their parents to discuss this information and possibly have it corrected, what these teenagers don’t know can hurt them. Some teenagers may only receive correct information about STIs, testing, pregnancy, etc. from a show like “Sex…with Mom and Dad,” but if this information is presented via a sexist framework, it can still be harmful. If MTV wants to appropriately address the issues that the young people face who have made the network so successful, this needs to change.

-Sheena Bosket, Co-Coordinator, LSRJ at Georgia State University


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