Doogie Howser, TV’s teen-aged doctor, lost his virginity in the series’s premier showing last week. He’s one of several teen-aged characters scheduled to have their first sexual encounter during TV’s fall season.
Why is teen sex suddenly the big trend on TV? The bottom line is, sex boosts ratings. Of course, no one admits their motives are so crass. The executive producer of “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” says the show is just trying to be honest.
“Doogie’s been in love with this girl for 2 years,” the executive producer told a newspaper reporter. “It seemed it would be dishonest, it would make him kind of weird, if nothing happened.” (Don’t miss the implication here: The teen who doesn’t have sex is weird.)
Television’s attitude toward teen sex highlights an interesting phenomenon. I’ll call it selective civic responsibility.
Remember the detective show “Cagney and Lacey”? Every time one of the detectives climbed into the squad car, she buckled her seatbelt. It was part of an organized campaign to boost seatbelt use. The idea is that if people see TV characters buckling up, that’s going to have a subliminal effect on them.
Likewise, population control groups are trying to get television to depict people using contraceptives. They hope that hearing references to birth control on TV will make people begin using it themselves.
Behind the campaign for seatbelts and birth control lies the belief that television has the power–and the moral responsibility–to make a difference in people’s attitudes.
But when it comes to sex, that sense of moral responsibility vanishes. If anything, the subliminal message seems to be that sex is OK any time, any place, any context.
The impact on young people can be tragic. TV teen characters function as coming-of-age role models to many American teen-agers. They imitate the hairstyles and clothing they see on screen. Don’t you think they also imitate the sexual attitudes?
Just last May the script of Beverly Hills 90210 called for teen character Brenda to lose her virginity. Shannen Doherty, the actress who plays Brenda, protested, saying Brenda provides a role model to many young girls. But Shannen lost the battle with her producers. And Brenda was portrayed having sex with her boyfriend on prom night.
What other battles were lost that night, in the hearts of minds of American teens, we will never know.
Anyone who reads the news knows sex is not healthy for teens. It has produced an epidemic of abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, school drop-outs, babies born into poverty. So why don’t TV moguls use their power to persuade teens not to have sex outside of marriage?
The answer must be sought deep within the human heart–in what we can only call religious motives. Hollywood worships at the alter of sexual freedom. Many actors themselves drop easily in and out of relationships. They conceive children out of wedlock, have abortions, engage in homosexuality.
I guess the executive producer of “Doogie Howser” was just reflecting the world he lives in: In Hollywood, abstaining from sex is weird.
This fall, if your children watch TV, watch it with them. Help them to identify the subliminal messages conveyed by so many programs.
Because if you don’t, Hollywood might teach your kids to just say yes.