Sex Files

Sex Files

Karen Beggs

Karen Beggs, a youth leader from Knox Presbyterian Church, Lower Hutt, explores the influence of television culture on teenage sexual attitudes and activity.According to a recent Dominion article on condoms in schools, it was claimed that one in ten New Zealand children have had sex by the age of 12, and almost four out of 10 Kiwi kids have lost their virginity by 14. If this is true then one has to wonder what is influencing more and more young people to start having sex earlier . Is it the media?

Sex everywhere

Sex is a well-known best-seller. Radio, magazines, television, videos, music videos, video games, the internet; you name it and it’ll be using sex to attract attention. Sexual imagery is becoming more and more explicit as the need to grab the consumer’s attention increases. This is undoubtedly having an effect on our young people.

Television – Life imitating art imitating life

Unrealistic promiscuity and a high turnover of relationships are used to keep shows interesting.

Like all popular dramas, Dawson’s Creek is weighted heavily in favour of one particular subject matter – relationships. This is probably fair enough as our lives do basically revolve around our relationships with other people. The snag is that these relationships have to develop quickly to keep the punters watching. In almost no time a couple will progress to the stage where they are having sex.

The advertisements for Dawson’s Creek hail it as a programme that is finally dealing with real life issues, something teens can really identify with. But is their treatment of relationships really an accurate reflection of youth culture today?

Reality or Fantasy

Most teenagers I spoke with about this were aware that the popular culture around them is saturated in sex. They know that much of what they see and hear on TV is fantasy. Roswell, for example, has aliens as the main characters. Most of the teens I spoke to felt this was unrealistic. They described TV as cheesy and unrealistic with more emphasis on the physical rather than the emotional.

A few teens I spoke with thought that Dawson’s Creek wasn’t too bad as far as depicting reality goes. However they felt the characters acted older than an average high school student. Indeed Dawson’s Creek characters seemed to me to express themselves more articulately than most adults I know.

Who is imitating whom?

Although young people are media savvy, with a healthy dose of cynicism, they do sometimes aspire to fantasy. So how much of what is being seen on TV and heard through music is being imitated in the lives of teenagers?

Having sex at high school age seems to be just as likely to get you a negative reputation as a positive one, especially among third and fourth formers. One girl said that up until fifth form level everyone was talking about it, and by sixth form no-one really talks about sex anymore but a lot of them are having it.

However we can’t entirely blame the media. Sexual immorality is not a new problem. It existed long before television and compact discs. Just take the age-old example of Sodom and Gomorrah. Most teens said that they got most of their information about sex from their friends with sexual experience, rather than off the TV.

Positive Influence

Although the media around us reflects an attitude that already exists, albeit a rather distorted reflection, at the same time it can’t help but influence. Most of the teens I asked felt that all the sexual imagery around them puts ideas into their head and gets them thinking more about sex.

While the suggestive TV programmes and music aren’t likely to go away in a hurry, we don’t need to be passive consumers sucking in everything the producers serve up. We need to teach our young people to think critically about what they are watching and listening to, and to be discerning about their choices.

Many of the teens I talked to said that they intended to get married before having sex, yet they watch as many of these shows as a lot of sexually active teens would. Obviously there is some other influence in their lives countering the effect of the media around these young people. As youth leaders I think it is important to be a part of that influence.