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.