Here in Ireland the Crisis Pregnancy Agency runs a campaign called B4Udecide aimed at encouraging teenagers to delay having sex. But it is up against the massive cultural force called Glee which essentially promotes the opposite message.
Glee is the super-popular musical comedy set in an American high school, and centred on the school’s “glee” or music club. It has a gigantic worldwide audience and has huge appeal among teens and even pre-teens.
A basic assumption of the show is that “everybody’s doing it”, so the message to the show’s audience is none too subtle.
Episode 5 of the new season, entitled “The First Time” is a case in point. The Glee Club is rehearsing for West Side Story. The director, Artie, discovers that his leads Rachael and Blaine are still virgins, (the horror!). He encourages them to lose their virginity because the characters they are playing, Tony and Maria are filled with sexual desire for one another.
Overlooked is the fact that Maria in West Side Story is most definitely a virgin, is rather shy, is not in the least precocious and she and Tony are filled more with love for one another than sexual desire. All the same, Artie asks Rachael and Blaine: “How do you expect to convey the human experience to an audience when you haven’t even opened yourself up to one of humanity’s most basic and primal needs?”
By the end of the episode Blaine has lost his virginity with his boyfriend, Kurt (Glee is very pro-gay and likes to portray its handful of Christian characters as prudish hypocrites), while Rachael has lost hers with her boyfriend, Finn. But they love each other, so that’s OK, although it’s not explained why they even need to love each other as I’m very doubtful whether the writers of Glee really believe sex has an objective moral purpose which says a couple must love each other before they have sex.
In any event, the message of Glee runs directly counter to that of B4Udecide which provides some very good reasons why teenagers should delay having sex, including: girls and boys who had sex under age 17 were also more likely to say that they never had sex with that person again; girls who had sex under age 17 were over 70 percent more likely to have a crisis pregnancy in their lifetime; boys and girls who had sex under age 17 were twice as likely to get a sexually transmitted infection in their lifetime.
But with the wildly popular Glee telling its young audience that teenagers should be having sex, what hope does the B4Udecide campaign have?
Romeo and Juliet, on which West Side Story is based, is of course the classic story of young love and in it the star-crossed lovers only “do it” after their secret marriage. They have ardent desire for each other before they have sex and therefore it makes no sense at all for Artie to tell Rachael and Blaine that they have to have sex with their respective partners before they can properly play the parts of Tony and Maria.
But while it is too much to expect the writers of Glee to possess the literary skills of a William Shakespeare, why can’t they at least share his moral imagination, his sensibility, his understanding?
Then again, how could they have Shakespeare’s sensibility when they live in an entirely different, and by comparison vastly impoverished moral universe in which two couples in Glee are prompted to have sex by their artistic director for the entertainment of the show’s young and impressionable audience?
David Quinn is a well-known Irish journalist and the director of the Iona Institute.