Sexuality Education and Pregnancy Prevention (cont.)

Moderator: Why is sexuality taboo to a certain extent, but violence is okay? In your opinion, which is more damaging to youth and why?

Langrall-Folb: I come from the generation of "make love, not war" and a friend of mine told me once he had an epiphany. He was watching TV with his teenaged son whom he had raised with awareness of when a sex scene came on TV, to cover his eyes, when the passion scenes came on, yet they did nothing about the violence that they allowed their son to see. My friend has this revelation in the midst of watching a movie with his son, and here came the love scene and the son covered his eyes, yet there had been numerous violent scenes which he had watched with wide-open eyes. My friend realized, sex is something people do and you need to know and see this. He told his son to uncover his eyes and watch, that this is what people do. He realized he had approached the issue backwards. My opinion is I feel the same way. I am much less concerned about my children seeing a love scene than I am about them seeing exploitive violence. I would rather them learn to love people than to kill them. We do have a lot of research out there on violence in the media and its effect on children. It's hard to do those same sorts of studies with sex in the media. You can't sit a focus group down in front of a sex scene and watch to see if they go have sex afterwards. There are few studies about sexual activity. We do see that violence does have an effect.

Moderator: Do you feel that we are now seeing that in our society, the effects of violence?

Langrall-Folb: I don't blame the media. I don't blame TV or film entirely, because it's nobody's sole responsibility, just as it's not the media's responsibility to educate our kids about sex. I believe it should come from the parents, schools, et cetera. In Europe, everyone is on the same page with regard to sexual education and they're also on the same page on violence. They don't have guns. I think that the media play a role, just as parents play a role, just as our government plays a role in this issue of violence and that's an entirely different show. I take the approach of trying to applaud the TV industry for what strides they are making. You go nowhere by blaming someone, other than making them more defensive.

Moderator: If you enjoy tongue-in-cheek shows like "Married With Children" or "The Simpsons," is that a bad influence on children?

Langrall-Folb: I think that (personal opinion) the treatment of children in families on TV for dramatic purposes is entertaining, and it makes for a more interesting story. We have to remember that TV is drama. It's our version of theater. To drive a story, you need a certain amount of drama or spark or spunk or conflict. The way children are portrayed in TV in families, there's always the one sort of smart-alecky kid who has all the wise cracks. To some degree, I don't feel that's healthy. I used to teach junior high and high school, and the golden rule for teachers, especially with adolescents, is you do not use sarcasm. It's damaging to young people. Sarcasm is very damaging because it's very confusing. What is the message here? Are they being straight with me? It's a double message. I find some of those portrayals to be negative in portraying what family life is like and how children are treated or should be treated. It's the source of humor and I don't think we should take it so seriously that our society is going to crumble based on the fact that this show has a loud-mouth, smart-aleck kid in it. I think there are much more important issues to deal with than something like that.

Moderator: Does The Media Project do any research or work with people in the movie industry, or is your focus primarily on TV? If so, what do you do, and if not, why not?

Langrall-Folb: Our focus is primarily TV; however, we do conduct outreach to films that we know are coming up that might have to do with a teenage theme or that are aimed at young people. The film business is very different as well. By the time I hear about a movie, it's been written and produced. It's difficult to catch them in the writing stage. Many studios are aware of us and many have contacted us, and we do work with cable productions and occasionally we get a call from someone working on a production film.

Moderator: Now that AIDS education TV specials and safe-sex plot lines are on the rise, how has that influenced teen sexual behavior?

Langrall-Folb: I don't have hard data, but my personal feeling is yes. We did conduct a very unscientific on-line survey of viewers of the show "Felicity" in which there was an episode where Felicity decides she's ready to become sexually active, and goes to the health clinic and learns about birth control. Actually on camera, they demonstrate how to put on a condom on a prop. So we linked up with three teen-created "Felicity" web sites, and we asked the kids that came to the site about their viewing habits, about some other things that had been on the "Felicity" show that season, and we asked them their opinion of that episode. Did they think if was informative? How did they feel about seeing a condom demonstration? We had about 100 girls between ages of 12 and 21 that we tabulated, and 36 out of that 103 girls said they had never seen a demonstration of the correct way to use a condom before. Eighty-nine out of that 103 said that teens get helpful information about sex and birth control from TV. Sixty said they felt the demonstration of the correct way to use condom was informative. Twenty-seven said they learned something new about birth control or safer sex from the condom demonstration episode of "Felicity." It tells us that kids are watching and are picking up information. We also after a previous episode of "Felicity" which dealt with date rape (two-part episode). We consulted with the writers extensively and succeeded in getting them to mention emergency contraception. We also encouraged them to put up an 800 number for a rape crisis hotline. The hotline received over 1000 calls. This tells us that young people are watching, learning and, if given the opportunity to take some action, they will do that.

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