STD Week: MTV Does a Terrible Job of Educating Teens About STDs

Though 16 and Pregnant and its companion show Teen Mom have been praised for educating teens about contraception and pregnancy, that’s about as far as MTV’s sex ed program goes. Though they’ve really gone the extra mile to give multiple perspectives on teen pregnancy, including airing a special on abortion and including 16 and Pregnant episodes that feature adoptions, STDs never come up.

MTV’s other reality shows do mention STDs from time to time, but only in passing, and they’re often used as a scare tactic that fails to materialize after the commercial break. On an episode of Jersey Shore, The Situation worried that he might have caught something from a girl he hooked up with, which led to him being chided by JWoww until he called a doctor and confirmed that – gasp! – it is possible to get STDs from oral sex. On this season of The Real World, Dustin Zito came clean about his background in gay porn only to deal with roommates’ misconceptions and stereotypes about gay sex, including girlfriend Heather Marter telling Dustin that gay men have more STDs. Fellow castmates Leroy Garrett and Naomi Defensor, who’d been engaging in a “friends with benefits” relationship, had a pregnancy scare. The scare forced them to admit they hadn’t been using protection even though both of them were sleeping with other people, and Leroy even said that he sometimes puts on a condom before sex but takes it off halfway through once “the coast is clear.”

While MTV has learned from the fury surrounding Amber Portwood‘s assault of Gary Shirley on Teen Mom and Snooki getting punched on Jersey Shore that they must put domestic violence PSAs on after their shows, the network has stayed away from STD education. Because of the huge success of 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, teen pregnancy is the big issue at MTV. Their “It’s Your Sex Life” website and their “Teen pregnancy is 100 percent preventable” tagline focus on contraception and safe sex. While both of those are incredibly important, it’s doing a disservice to teens to let them thing that the only consequence of unsafe sex is pregnancy. For one, it leaves out STDs, but it also marginalizes homosexual sex. To paraphrase one commenter on Television Without Pity: “You can give a baby up for adoption, but herpes never goes away.” I guess the network has decided that cute little babies are much more compelling TV than gross close-ups of genital warts.

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    • Dove

      What the hell does “once the coast is clear” mean? Like, once he’s convinced the girl that he has one on? I’m sure it’s terrible but I honestly don’t knwo what he means.

      • Lilit Marcus

        I have no idea what he means either. But I agree with you – whatever his reasoning, it’s a bad idea. It’s not like there’s some law that you only get STDs during the first half of sex.

    • ALS

      I really don’t think MTV is really great at discussing anything involving teen sex, pregnancy, etc. Their “It’s your sex life,” website isn’t a great website for advising against teen pregnancy. Once I looked at it after I watched Teen Mom and it was inadequate and also most of the people on the boards were talking about how they lost their virginity and didn’t use protection. Also, birth control, condoms, etc. do not make teen pregnancy 100% preventable and MTV seems to portray this message. They say nothing about abstinence anywhere on the site. I think it’s important that teens know of birth control options, etc., but you can’t say these things make pregnancy 100% preventable. Simply not true.