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Dawn Stacey M.Ed, LMHC

The Secret Life of the American Teenager - Too Much Emphasis on Sex?

By June 22, 2009

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Tonight, season-two of The Secret Life of the American Teenager premiered on ABC Family. The series originally received generally negative reviews from most mainstream critics when it began broadcasting but was extremely well received among viewers. Kate Juergens, executive vice president of original-series programming and development for ABC Family, says of the series, "We're not sugar-coating teenage pregnancy, but dealing with the very real consequences of it." This drama focuses on the relationships between families and friends, and how they deal with an unexpected teen pregnancy. The target audience for The Secret Life of the American Teenager is teens and their families who are trying to cope in a culture where 20% of 15-year-old girls and 25% of 15-year-old boys are sexually active.

In a nutshell, American Teenager is a show about what happens after vulnerable 15-year-old "good girl" Amy comes home from camp pregnant from her first and only sexual experience. In season two, Amy just gave birth to baby John and so a love triangle begins between Amy, Ricky (the father of Amy’s baby) and Ben (Amy’s virgin boyfriend). The plot thickens as we find out that Amy’s recently divorced mother finds out that she is pregnant (by her boyfriend/boss). As if this is not enough sex going on, cheerleader Grace, a self-proclaimed Christian who had taken a vow of abstinence last season, loses her virginity to Jack, her on again/off boyfriend -- star of the football team and then decides that she loves sex. This is after she has a huge fight with her father over her virginity; only to find out that after having sex, her father was killed in a plane accident.

If you ask me, the show still appears forced and is filled with stereotypes of today's teens. The teenagers and adults in this series seem too consumed by sex. If I got paid for each time the word sex was spoken during this episode, I’d be a rich woman! The one redeeming part of this episode is when promiscuous, sex-crazed Adrian adamantly tries to stop Grace from having sex. Though Grace tries to make the argument that she has been on the pill for a month and Jack will be using condoms, Adrian makes the insightful debate that just because Grace is prepared for sex, she is not emotionally ready to lose her virginity – that your first time should be special. Apparently though, Adrian’s argument falls on deaf ears.

This drama was created in collaboration with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy – the group notes that nearly 47% of all high school students have had sex. Also, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy points out that approximately 1 million teenagers in the US will become pregnant during the next 12 months, and 95% of those pregnancies will be unintended. About one-third of them will end in miscarriage, one-third ending in abortion, and one-third of the teenagers will continue their pregnancy and keep the baby.

July 14, 2009 at 3:53 pm
(1) Jane says:

I totally agree. I watched the first episode and never thought it came close to what my teenagers (boy and girl) say or do. Since then I have seen an episode here and there and cannot get over how many times the word sex comes up. Maybe it’s just the teens that hang around my house but nobody ever refers to sex as sex. It’s an unspoken word like the music from the 80s. Implied but never said over and over again. No teen walks around the halls at school talking like that. Where do they get their facts/material? And this from the ‘family’ channel?

January 2, 2010 at 9:36 am
(2) James says:

I’ve never watched this show, but I saw the article quoted a survey that said roughly 47 percent of HS teens have sex and 53 percent do not. What about the characters portrayed in this show. What percent of them engage in sexual activity? Is it reflective of the percentage the do so in reality, or is it much higher? If its much higher, what would be the purpose of portraying sexual activity among teens at a much higher rate than actually occurs?

February 24, 2010 at 4:26 pm
(3) Teenager says:

look this is not about YOUR teenagers, is about how things are getting wild these days. and the show is good. just because you are parents you think the show sucks because you think your children is seeing a bad thing. and its not. if the children dont see what happens when you dont do things right or when u make the wrong dessisions how the heck do you think they wont do it? darn it, i hate parents

March 22, 2010 at 9:07 pm
(4) Brittany says:

i agree with the last person says. the show is not about encouraging us teens to have sex. for me its encouraging me to NOT have sex. it shows the physical, emotional, and mental things that you have to go through when you are having to take care of a child. and just to be honest, i would never want that responsibility at 14 years old. it’s just too much! i think that despite what other teens think, parents should have more sex talks with their children, to prevent heart break, pregnancy and std’s. i also think that any teen out there that is having sex, should either be protected or not having it at all, if you don’t want to harm your little fragile body. if you don’t want to get herpes or chlymidia, than don’t open your legs!

July 25, 2010 at 4:08 am
(5) Another Teenager says:

I decided to watch this show one day just for the heck of it, and I think overall it’s a good show. Sure, they talk about sex a lot more openly than me and my friends do… but I think this is a good thing. In our society, it’s taboo to talk about sex… so how is a teen supposed to know how to make wise choices about it? It’s so mysterious and most of us don’t realize the broad spectrum of things to worry about and end up making mistakes. This show helps teens become more aware of the consequences so they can make healthier choices. Idk about anyone else, but I’m always so very confused about this subject because it’s so in the dark. Thanks for bringing it to the light!

October 1, 2010 at 11:17 am
(6) teen says:

I think the real problem with teen sex is the parents. You need to be open with your kids about it. If you talk to your kids more about it then they wont be afraid to ask you questions and be safe. Would you rather your daughter come home pregnant or have HIV, then just putting them on the pill and talking to them about safe sex? Im not saying you have to condone sex, but really they are going to do it anyway, dont you want them to be safe?

March 29, 2011 at 2:27 am
(7) natalie says:

its gotten so stupid. in every episode the word sex is the most commonly used word. i just saw this thing where the word sex came up 71 times in one single episode. all the characters think about is sex. give the show some more storylinesss.

June 19, 2011 at 11:35 pm
(8) Kiersten says:

I think all the teenagers on this page should stop watching altogether, because there are such serious grammatical errors and spelling issues that it embarrasses me as a 16 year old. and yes, there is waaayyy to much emphasis on sex here, if youre bold enough to tag it the teenage “secret life” and American, then at least make it relevant and do research. no wonder kids from other country snort and think American kids are stupid. because we are. isn’t MTVs reality show enough??? there’s not a single other issue synonymous with teenagers in the show!! like how about drugs and alcohol?? but hold on, next thing you know everyone on the show will be getting lung cancer from smoking or something.

January 22, 2013 at 7:05 pm
(9) Francesca says:

Teens feel pressued to have sex because they believe that all of their peers are doing it, and they’re a freak if they don’t do it too. This show re-enforces that pressure because all of the main characters have had sex. Yet the reality is that 53% of high school students are virgins.

Teens who have sex shouldn’t feel like criminals, but teens who don’t have sex shouldn’t feel like outcasts either. The show could be more balanced.

For all of the talk about sex, there really isn’t a lot of useful information about it. Just because they repeat the word “sex” over and over again, it doesn’t mean that they’re conveying any useful information about it.

Teens already know what sex is and what it’s called. What they have are specific questions about sex, and the show deals with the topic in such a superficial way that it really doesn’t answer any of those questions. I doubt that the teens who watch that show learn anything that they didn’t know before they turned on the TV.

March 18, 2013 at 2:11 pm
(10) Another teenager says:

Well I agree with the other teens. I seen this show on netflix by randomly clicking it I like the show alot now however when they repeat words alot it annoys me to the core. Anywho… This ahow doesnt promote sex at all if anything it makes me not want to have sex at all because to much drama follows I rather have fun in other ways then deal with drama and grown up stuff. But one thing this show does fail at is they just talk about sex like horny monkeys all they think about lol I mean I see a attractive guy and me n my friends say a little stuff for a moment but we do not think about it day I mean really

May 13, 2013 at 3:17 pm
(11) helena says:

I believe that is one of the so much important information for me.

And i’m happy reading your article. However want to statement on some basic things, The site taste is great, the articles is truly nice : D. Good activity, cheers

April 27, 2014 at 12:34 pm
(12) Charles says:

I understand that sex is on the mind of most teenagers but I watch this show with my daughter and it really drives me up the wall how often they use the word. Last night I decided to count. All but 6 short conversations in the episode were about sex. In one 2 minute conversation it was used 37 times. There was one short speech about teen sex and then about 40 minutes of sex talk. As you can imagine I couldn’t keep count through the entire episode but I can promise you the number of times the word was said directly, not even a reference but the word itself was literally in the hundreds. It’s not so subliminal brainwashing in my opinion,

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