Religious organization has distorted message to teens on the dangers of sex

October 31, 1995|By Susan Reimer

Saturday night at 7 p.m. WJZ (Channel 13) will broadcast the video "Sex, Lies and . . . the Truth." It is aimed at teen-agers and carries the message that only abstinence can protect them from the dangers of sex.

Watch it. But not with your children.

Produced by James Dobson's Focus on the Family, a Christian organization that has begun to flex its muscle in conservative politics, this program carries an important message, but one that is overwhelmed by video images and undermined by a chaotic and misinformed presentation.

This isn't the kind of show parents and children should see cold. You might find yourselves ambushed.

The video opens with a view of a grave, the lights of a carnival blinking in the background. Heard is the theme from the movie "Jaws."

From this ham-handed opening message that sex is a deadly game of chance, the camera meanders through the carnival, moving in for distorted close-ups of the faces of seedy barkers. I felt like I was watching "Something Wicked This Way Comes." OK, sex is risky. But the message here is that sex is surreal and suffused with evil.

From this montage, we go to a sound stage where teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron and his wife, Chelsea Noble, discuss the sexual messages that bombard kids. They eventually get around to mentioning that they waited until they were married to have sex.

But the television character with which Cameron is identified was a shallow, horny teen who abused the feelings of girls. So the message of abstinence until marriage -- delivered almost as an afterthought by these two -- is obscured by the messenger. And in real life, he and Chelsea got married right out of high school -- not a choice I'd like to promote.

The segment that follows -- man-on-the-street interviews with a rainbow coalition of teens -- is perhaps the most valuable. Through these teens, parents can see just how uninformed, irresponsible, short-sighted and silly kids are.

None of them can define the word "abstinence." Two giggle as a friend explains that the father of her child is in prison. And another says she would have unprotected sex with her boyfriend if she knew he had AIDS because then they could die together.

That's what's out there, people. Our kids can be fatally stupid.

The video follows with a weeping mother whose son, daughter-in-law and grandson died of AIDS. Chilling pictures of the dying father and the dying child are shown. This segment concludes with her plea for abstinence until marriage, but kids cannot help but be confused by the fact that this AIDS tragedy took place in the context of marriage.

There are abortion horror stories and a withering, confrontational talk by a former National Football League player that might be subtitled "Scared Abstinent."

The video includes a recitation of deceptive and incomplete statistics on the efficacy of condoms. I assume the hope is that this will motivate kids to remain abstinent. But what if sexually active teens conclude instead that there is no point using condoms?

Next is the predictable collection of athletes, rock stars, TV stars and models testifying that it is cool to be a virgin. What the video lacks is any advice on how to stay that way. Fear and shame won't motivate teens, because they have no fear and the only shame they know is that suffered when they do not conform to their peers.

WJZ will follow Saturday's broadcast of this video with a half-hour town meeting-style discussion with teens from area high schools and youth groups. I hope they say what they think instead of what they think their watching parents want to hear. Any uncensored glimpse inside the minds of this age is worth our time.

"Sex, Lies and . . . the Truth" is a chaotic collection of messages for young people whose thoughts on this subject are already pretty chaotic, but some parents may find it worth taping and talking about with their teens.

But you should see "Sex, Lies and . . . the Truth" before your children do. You need a chance to decide if this is what you want your kids to think about sex.

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