Back in 2012, MTV sent out a casting call for a new reality show, variously reported as being titled My First or Losing It. The call read, in part:
“Young adulthood is a time for exploration. New relationships, fresh experiences and sexual firsts. Now MTV is looking to frankly capture that journey in a new series. We’re looking for adults who are ready to go all the way. Do you want to take things to the next level? Are you ready to hand over your V Card? Do you have a friend who is ready to lose it? Let MTV come along on your journey as you try to LOSE YOUR VIRGINITY!”
This announcement was greeted with condemnation in the press. As a result, a few days after the solicitation became news, MTV announced that it was scrapping the show; and ultimately, the show was not produced. But clearly, MTV never abandoned the concept. Now, a couple years have gone by…and the network is trying a similar premise again as witness the July 23rd episode of MTV’s new show, Virgin Territory (11:00 p.m. ET).
MTV claims that Virgin Territory is a respectful, even-handed look at teenagers’ sex lives, which respects some teens’ decisions not to “lose their virginity.” However, the show presupposes that the overwhelming majority of teens DO choose to “lose it,” and that those who do not are some sort of freakish anomaly worthy of being displayed on a fake “reality” show.
Also, of course, it is impossible for any show to be “respectful” which deliberately exploits young adults at one of the most vulnerable stages of their lives, and which humiliates them by using one of the most intimate and personal decisions a person can make as public fodder for a TV show.
Such was amply demonstrated in the show’s second episode, on which viewers were introduced to four teens.
Luke is a stereotypical Christian youth and self-admitted “home-schooled pastor's kid” who is attending Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. By selecting an individual with so atypical a background as its representative for virginity, MTV is implicitly saying, “See! Only radical Christians believe this ‘virginity’ stuff!” And, naturally, even Luke is not 100% pure, admitting to the camera that “The toughest part about being a virgin is not being able to have sex. If I wasn't a Christian, if I didn't have that relationship with Him, there's no way I would be a virgin. I mean, why?... I have had a couple (bleeped b***jobs).” One can easily imagine MTV’s bosses chortling to themselves, “Well, see, if even someone THAT Christian can’t totally abstain, that proves how stupid, pointless, and out of touch a belief in retaining virginity really is!”
Throughout Luke’s story, ONLY the alleged downside to virginity is presented, with no compelling non-religious reason for choosing not to engage in premarital sex offered. Luke is shown as a well-meaning, good-natured, but essentially benighted moron brainwashed by religion, who blindly does what his parents and church tell him to. MTV gives the impression that Luke is not “thinking for himself” – a fact underlined by the show’s concluding tagline, “only YOU know when you’re ready!” In MTV’s view, taking the advice of your parents, or considering the literally thousands of years worth of wisdom contained in religious teaching, is mindlessly “doing what you’re told” – but “thinking for yourself” means doing what MTV tells you to do: drinking, partying, and having sex with as many different partners as possible.
The show’s second virgin is Kyle, a sweet, bumbling romantic who clumsily attempts to date, but inevitably fails. Throughout, Kyle is contrasted with his clearly “normal” and admirable male buddies, who sneer at and mock his continued virginity and constantly push him to sleep around – as witness the following conversation between Kyle and his friends:
John: “You dropped a bomb. ‘I’m a virgin.’ I’m like, what the fuh?”
Kyle: “I think a big part of my being a virgin is that I’m not good at making moves on girls.”
Friend: “What level of virginity are we talking about? Have you touched a vagina?”
John: “What base are you standing on? First is kissing, second is hands, third is oral. You ever get (bleeped h**d)?”
John: “You got domed up. So you're standing on third base. Did you ever, like, make a move and she denied you?”
Kyle: “No, I denied her.”
John: “No! Man, come on!”
Friend: “Is she just not good-looking?”
Kyle shows a picture of his former girlfriend Amanda.
Friend: “Are you kidding? This girl is gorgeous!”
John:” “What the hell? You’re not all sense-y about it, like, ‘I want it to be special the first time.’ Don’t tell me that!”
Kyle: “A little bit.”
All guys: “Aw, NO!”
Kyle: “I don’t even know what condom size to get. I know don’t shoot for magnums.”
Friend: “If you’re confident with your johnson. You never tried one on, just for (bleeped f***ing) gigs? You have some, right?”
Kyle: “Yeah, but I made balloon animals out of ‘em.”
John shoves a condom at him.
John: “Here you are. Locked and loaded. If you make that into a balloon animal, I’m gonna punch you.”
This picture of Kyle as hopelessly out of touch with “normal” male actions and desires is promoted by Kyle himself, who states that “My ideal picture of sex is too good to be true. I have these fantasies of, like, on the beach or on top of the Eiffel Tower. Or something stupid.” (Because obviously, the desire for sex to be romantic and ‘special’ is “something stupid.”)
Indeed, the show’s message that associating sex with romantic love (or even – gasp! -- commitment!) is underlined when viewers see Kyle’s date with his “crush” Tabby. After arranging for hot chocolate and a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride past a town square decorated with Christmas lights, Kyle is shot down by the “free and easy” Tabby, who refuses to even allow him to put his arm around her, and openly tells Kyle, “I’m not into surprises. I’m only fluent in two languages: sarcasm and bull (bleeped s***).”
Here again, MTV shows only negatives to virginity. In Kyle’s case, he is clearly a virgin only because he is inept at “putting the moves” on women, and his desire for romance equals social incompetence – unlike his friends, who in the best tradition of MTV programming like Jersey Shore, completely disdain love or romantic feelings and, animal-like, want only to “get laid.”
Nor is the distaff side of the teen population neglected by MTV. Shy female virgin Mikaela takes a road trip down to Los Angeles with her two friends, Allison and Brittani, with the avowed purpose of “being on a honey hunt -- beaches, boys, and booze.”
In the event, the “honey hunt” doesn’t go very well. After being hit on in a hot tub by a young man who admits he’s been steadily dating another woman for six months, Mikaela and her two friends go dancing in a club – but hastily depart:
Brittany: “That guy just grabbed my vagina! I told him to get the (bleeped f***) away.”
Mikaela: “He grabbed your vagina?”
Brittany: “He literally grabbed it and I pushed him away. I feel disgusting.”
Mikaela: “What a bunch of (bleeped f***ing) weirdos…This probably isn’t the best place to meet guys, because it’s full of vagina grabbers.”
While it is unusually honest of MTV to allow someone in one of their shows to admit that dance clubs and bars may not be “the best place to meet guys” (what would Snooki and JWoww say to that?), it is also surprising, given the network’s standard attitude of basically encouraging young men to be predators who sexually assault women. “I hate it when guys push your head down and try and make them give you (bleeped h**d). Hasn’t that ever happened to you?” asks Mikaela’s friend Allison, as though such an occurrence is commonplace. (And who knows? In the universe MTV advocates, it probably is.)
Mikaela avows that her purpose in taking the trip was to “loosen up” and, implicitly, find a man with whom to have sex. “I'm a virgin, but penises don't scare me. I've given oral and received it,” she boasts, while admitting that her shyness is essentially the only reason she is still a virgin. So yet again, being a virgin is presented as being the result of some sort of character flaw. If Mikaela were a “normal” young woman, she’d have no problem approaching men – and would certainly have thrown away lost her virginity by now!
The program’s final virgin is Dominique, an intelligent, self-possessed, and clear-headed African-American woman, who prefers to focus on her education and work career in the short-term, while reserving sex for marriage in the future. Dominique is allowed to articulate clear and logical reasons for abstaining from sex:
“I've seen relationships in my family with everybody fifteen and up getting pregnant and having a family. Some people have sex at such a young age, but that's not the man they like, and they get so hurt…I don’t want to have sex with somebody and get attached to somebody, if that’s not the right person. I just don’t want to repeat the cycle, when I know there’s so much more. I am tired of everyone in my family getting pregnant at a young age. My grandmother had my mom when she was 16. My mother had my older sister when she was 18. The cycle continues on, and I just want to break it. When I have kids, I want it to be with my husband. So they can have a stable home, hot meals to come home to, I want to be that mother that’s always there for my child. I came from a household where the marriage fell apart...It was really hard for me.”
MTV is to be applauded for allowing at least one clear and intelligent defense of abstinence. Yet even here, there is the implication that Dominique’s arguments are not universally correct in principle, but merely in her own particular case. “The fact that Dominique has seen negative consequences to premarital sex may explain her decision to abstain…but it doesn’t mean you should!” MTV is telling its teen and pre-teen viewers. “Just because her family had problems doesn’t mean her arguments are true for anyone else.” After all, “only YOU know when you’re ready,” right?
Even if Virgin Territory DOES prove, against all odds, to treat abstinent teens fairly, it is still just another sex-obsessed MTV program aimed at teens. This is amply demonstrated by the seemingly random and incessant conversations about sex which pepper the episode. It is as though MTV’s cameramen followed the designated teens around, shooting hundreds of hours of film, then in editing, were certain to use every single second in which anything even remotely sexual was said – and if the words “penis” or “vagina” are mentioned, so much the better!:
Dominique: “I actually only touched a penis once in my life and it was really really fat and it was black. He had a black fat penis, okay?”
---- Dominique’s friend: “Just have sex one time!”
Dominique: “Story of my life. My friends, trying to convince me to lose the thing! That’s the one thing I’ve got control over…When I do it, I want it to be in the heat of the moment and be all spicy and stuff."
---- Dominique’s date Sein: “I’m a relationship guy. I personally don’t have no problem waiting. I’m not pressed over p***y. To me, it doesn’t matter. I be like, ‘Whatever’.”
---- Michaela and her friends talk to a tattoo artist.
artist: “I tattooed a vagina on somebody one time.”
Brittany: “Was it like a specific vagina?”
artist: “He came in with a porno mag and was like, ‘I want this vagina.’ “
---- And future episodes promise more of the same, with a “next week” trailer showing the following exchange between a woman and the “Christian” Luke:
girl: “So, Jesus doesn’t count b***jobs as sex?”
Luke: “I don’t know if He does, but I don’t.”
---- But then, this is no surprise. MTV is, after all, the same network that subjected teens and younger viewers to the unbelievably explicit reality series Savage U, in which sex guru Dan Savage urged college students to have promiscuous sex; Jersey Shore, with its endless drunken “hook-ups”; Girl Code, which derives “humor” from sexualizing teenage girls; dramas like The Hard Times of RJ Berger, which was entirely centered on the size of a teenage boy’s genitals; and the always-raunchy Video Music Awards. Even allegedly more “responsible” programs like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant have had the effect of glamorizing teenage pregnancy, with viewers often focusing less on the difficulties of teen motherhood and more on the benefits of being a reality-show star.
It is also no surprise that, despite its overtly sexual subject matter, MTV rates Virgin Territory TV-14 DLS, appropriate for 14 year olds (which means that the program is actually watched by viewers age 12, age 8, or even younger) – or, if past MTV scheduling is any guide, each episode will be rerun at all times of day, from early morning to after-school…perfectly positioned for young children to see it.