The most-powerful lobbying group in America is the Writers Guild of America. By determining what we watch on TV and in the movies, these writers help shape America's views and set the standard for what is acceptable, normal and right. You probably saw your first interracial or same-sex kiss on a screen. What is put out there by Hollywood is a responsibility that shouldn't be taken lightly -- and one that "Modern Family's" writers and producers blew for me big time in this week's episode, "Virgin Territory."
For the record, I love the show. I love its smart humor and characters. What I didn't love in the episode "Virgin Territory" was the discovery that the character of Haley, a high school senior, was sexually active and, according to the story line, has been for a while. The revelation that ditzy Haley has been having sex with her even-dumber boyfriend came out of the blue. She's in high school, and the story line centered on how her dad Phil wished he could be a "cool dad" and accept this news but can't:
Phil, I feel your pain. But I'd also like to take whoever wrote this plot line and poke out their eyes with hot poker sticks. Seventeen and sexually active? Really? This isn't the same as the show's toddler letting loose with an F-bomb in a prior episode. (Don't they all do that at some point?)
The problem I have with this is that I don't believe that every high school senior is out there having sex, is ready to have sex or needs to feel that 17 or 18 is the appropriate age to have sex because he or she saw it on prime-time TV.
Go ahead and flame me, all you parents who justify your lack of parenting with lame lines like "All the kids are doing it." Here's a news flash: They aren't. And maybe yours wouldn't be either if you had taught them about responsibility and consequences and not gone belly-up on doing your job.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 13 percent of teens have had sex by age 15 and 30 percent -- of both male and female teens -- still haven't had intercourse by the time they turn 19. Let me say it again: Not everybody is doing it.
The Institute found that teens are waiting longer to have sex than they did in the past. From 2006 to 2008, about 11 percent of unmarried females aged 15 to 19 and 14 percent of unmarried males that age had had sex before they were 15 years old, while in 1995, those percentages were 19 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Read that: Not only isn't everybody doing it, more kids nowadays are not.
But those teens who do have sex may face serious consequences. The Guttmacher Institute reports that each year, 750,000 teenage girls between 15 and 19 in the U.S. get pregnant. In 2008, those between 13 and 24 years old comprised 17 percent of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. The Institute also reports that while "15-24-year-olds represent only one-quarter of the sexually active population, they account for nearly half (9.1 million) of the 18.9 million new cases of STIs each year." These numbers reveal that some sexually active teens are taking serious risks, making responsible coverage of the issue even more important.
But numbers aside, there is a larger issue: the emotional land mines that sexual intercourse plants. Seventeen-year-olds may be physically ready to have intercourse, but emotionally they are far from being able to handle it. Unless you depersonalize sex and turn it into a sport for physical release -- in which case, may I suggest you just buy a vibrator and avoid the risk of HIV and pregnancy -- intercourse is something more, something bigger. It's an intimate expression of love between two people, not something you do just to feel good. Fundamentalists might go a step further and say it's something you do to procreate; that's their view, not mine. But I do believe that the intensity of pleasure that comes from having sex should be followed by something more than "I have to go home now because I have a science test tomorrow and Dad gave me a 10 p.m. curfew."
I'm not saying that sex outside marriage is a bad thing; I actually don't think it is. But I do think sex involving high school seniors is a path to emotional letdown, disappointment and a self-esteem battering similar to tossing Christians to the lions.
Maybe the writers of "Modern Family," which has been ground-breaking on so many other worthy fronts, could have skipped the low-hanging fruit on the ratings tree and instead shown us a Haley who surprises us all by announcing to her boyfriend that sex will just have to wait until college?