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Is a Threesome Worrisome?

This Monday's episode of Gossip Girl stirred up controversy when a menage-a-trois was featured--the act was last on a list of fifteen things to do before you graduate from college. Teasers for the episode had the Parent Television Council ("Because Our Children Are Watching") up in arms, calling airing the subject matter "reckless and irresponsible." The scene ended up being pretty tame, but is still making OMFG waves where parents are concerned.

In a letter to CW and all its affiliates, PTC president Tim Winter wrote:

Gossip Girl routinely depicts teenage characters engaging in promiscuous and consequence-free sexual behavior, and that's bad enough. But will you now be complicit in establishing a precedent and expectation that teenagers should engage in behaviors heretofore associated primarily with adult films? Behaviors that not only increase health risks, but which are emotionally and psychologically damaging to participants as well?

I'm all for depictions of sexuality with real-life consequences (Juno, use a condom for godssake!), but spur-of-the-moment threesome seems like a plot point symptomatic of most of theGossip Girl cast of kids so privileged they don't know the meaning of consequence.

(An aside: if you thought the phrasing "BEHAVIORS HERETOFORE ASSOCIATED PRIMARILY WITH ADULT FILMS" was funny, I also giggled when Winter called television a "sexual super-peer" in his letter, PDF available here).

Compare this reaction to the NPR piece "Parenting in the Age of Gossip Girl" interviewing Liz Perle, editor-in-cheif of the non-partisan non-profit Common Sense Media ("We believe in media sanity, not censorship"). Perle is also the mother of two and uses shows like Gossip Girl to talk to her teens about issues like sex, citing the need to "teach kids to see because we can't cover their eyes."

Perle admits that the Gossip Girl threesome episode did catch her attention, but it wasn't the sex act itself that caused the alarm but "because they're positioning [a menage-a-trois] as an absolutely normal must-do kind of thing. And they're positioning it to my kid who's actually starting to think about college. So, those two things get twinned in his mind and then I'm going to have to pull the strands apart."

Perle also took the opportunity to discuss the television industry with her kid and discuss how shows will pull sexy and controversial stunts for ratings. Which, according to many tv bloggers, seems to be the obvious reason behind the racy plot point.

It does look like there will be some fallout from the Threesome, but by the looks of next week's trailer, the "emotionally and psychologically damaging" effects will be no greater than any other drama trauma on GG.

How did you respond to sexuality on screen as a teen? (Personally, I was so put off by the acting and plot on Undressed it's safe to say MTV was no "sexual super peer" of mine!) If you're a parent, how do you address issues like the Gossip Girl episode with your children?

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Comments

9 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Like Perle, I'm also

Like Perle, I'm also concerned about the message the media is sending young people about group sex. It's turning into this thing that everybody does (supposedly) and if you don't do it you're a weird loser. I don't have a problem with threesomes, they're just not for me (I don't like to share). But I shouldn't feel like I'm some kind of prude for lacking the desire to have one and my future kids shouldn't either. However, I wouldn't censor the episode. If anything, parents can use it to talk their kids about the subject. Or you could just change the channel.

I'm not a parent, but I am

I'm not a parent, but I am annoyed (and unsurprised) at the assumption that three people jointly participating in a sex act is necessarily physically and emotionally damaging. And that it's really so out there.

Ok, so shows promoting

Ok, so shows promoting promiscuity, must-have sex, ratings-grab stunts, etc, etc -- I agree, it's a little much for young kids w/o parental or other guidance showing them healthy attitudes to sexuality.

However, I like the Tim Winter quote: Threesomes are intrinsically "emotionally & psychologically" damaging?

Judge other people's choices much, Tim Winter?

"And they're positioning it

"And they're positioning it to my kid who's actually starting to think about college. So, those two things get twinned in his mind and then I'm going to have to pull the strands apart." - HIS mind? Having been a teenage boy I can assure you that most of them don't need a TV show to get them fantasizing about threesomes. Most will do that all on their own, frequently. The real question is why this mother wants to involve herself with her son's (or daughter's) sexual fantasies.

by the time i was a

by the time i was a teenager, i knew that the stuff i saw teenagers doing on tv wasn't particularly common. in retrospect, maybe i just wasn't rich enough (i'm thinking of 90210). maybe kids have more pressure on them to have a threesomes before they go to college or whatever, but that isn't terribly different than the pressure kids have had to just have sex for at least the past 50 years. i don't know that it's any more harmful to have a threesome than a twosome (not that either are inherently harmful).

i don't really watch gossip girl, so i dno't know how they handled it, but certainly the idea of a list of things to do before a certain time in your life doesn't imply to the teen populace that this is a definitive real or useful list? right? i mean, are kids dumber than before? no.

Teen shows

I'll admit, I watch Gossip Girl and I like it for it's campiness and drama. Teen shows have always pushed the envelope, I remember when Dawson's Creek was on when I was in middle school and I wasn't allowed to watch it because one of the male characters had sex with his teacher.

I want to say it's up to parents to monitor what their kids watch, but we're in an age of technology, where they can watch the episode online. We didn't have that really when I was 12. Nor did we have internet phones or computers at my school and internet access was very limited. So it really comes down to being a truly involved parent.

I was pretty sheltered watching TV as a kid, I never had one in my room, but I do remember watching Undressed in high school after my parents went to bed. If I had kids, I definitely wouldn't let them watch GG because of the seemingly consequence-free sex that is portrayed on the show, as well as the pervasive alcoholism and drug use. But I do think it's every parent's duty to talk to their kids about sex and alcohol and drugs and be involved. Part of the reason why those characters on GG are into those things is because their parents aren't very involved.

isn't most sex consequence

isn't most sex consequence free though? i mean, comparing rates of sexual activity to rates of pregnancy, disease or emotional trauma.

i do understand that GG has a lot of sex in it, and i'm not saying i'm pro-that, but it's good for people who have never had sex to know that it won't change your whole world just because it's sex. the losing-your-virginity-is-a-big-deal and having-a--sex-will-kill-you-or-make-you-a-parent narratives have been ubiquitous for at least 30 years, and they certainly haven't done teenagers much good.

I don't think sex is

I don't think sex is consequence-free at all. When one is an adult and in a monogamous relationship, there can still be consequences like an unplanned pregnancy, even if birth control is used. Teenagers and young adults are still growing and developing, and sex is a huge deal, at least it is to me.

My whole world was changed when I lost my virginity. My "boyfriend" cheated on me and it devastated me. When I was in the dorms in college, I had a one-night stand and the girls in my wing teased me about it endlessly, and whenever I saw the guy it was always awkward, and then there was the friend of mine who got herpes from her boyfriend, and the other friend who got some other STD, and the other friend who got pregnant, etc. I do think that losing one's virginity is a big deal because sex is an incredibly emotional experience and yes, it can be life-altering. I know too many women who have gotten pregnant to pass off the "have sex and you'll become a parent" argument as archaic. It happens, and it happens a lot. I consider myself lucky that I never got an STD or got pregnant.

Sex would be consequence-free if there was zero emotional involvement, if it was impossible to get pregnant, and if there were no STDs, but unfortunately that isn't the case.

I don't think that those arguments have done teenagers any good, but not because they're bad arguments (because it happens, and they aren't myths) but because teenagers just really don't care and typically have the attitude of "it can't happen to me".

So that's why shows like this would make me uncomfortable for my children to watch, because it is seemingly consequence-free.

There's something meaningful

There's something meaningful in this post. Several months ago my 19 years old sister shared a secret with me about her first threesome experience. It was the product of a drunken, weed-fueled hookup with her best friend at the time and a dude (who had a girlfriend). And the most amazing thing she was absolutely not ashamed telling me about her experience in every detail. Probably, I'm too old-fashioned, most likely not, but I'm not gonna judge her. She just thinks it's acceptable.