My love-hate relationship with “The Tyra Show” strikes again: Yesterday Tyra hosted her first-ever Teens and Parents: Sex Summit all about teen sex. Alas, calling it a “summit” is a rather grand way to describe 13-, 14- and 15-year-old girls dishing about the dozens of boys they’ve slept with, while their moms sit backstage doing the face-palm reaction.
Throughout her show, Tyra shared little tidbits of information with the audience about what the kids are up to these days, like having sex in public places (79 percent) or hooking up with two people in one night (58 percent). Wowza! Where did she get these so-called “stats”? They were gleaned from visitors to Tyra’s website who filled out a survey about teen sex, with questions seemed more designed for shock value than usefulness, like, “Have you ever had sex on your parents’ bed?” Let’s be clear up front: Tyra’s survey on her website is completely unscientific, so anybody could have filled it out, not necessarily teens. Tyra didn’t even mention how many people participated in her “study,” so it could have been 20 teens, or it could have been 20,000. We don’t know.
But my biggest beef with Tyra’s Sex Summit is how she reduced the story of teenage girls and sex down to just one, lone narrative: bad self-esteem. Every single guest on this show was a negative, cautionary tale. I’m convinced that only girls with a tarnished self-image were invited on to the show and these girls were coached to say they engaged in admittedly premature sexual behaviors because they felt bad about themselves or they want to be popular (see clip below). For example, 17-year-old, Brittany, while explaining why she had a threesome, said, “Growing up I was always the chunky girl in school, I never thought I was beautiful, I never thought I was wanted. So when I got the opportunity, I jumped on it.” Alisia, 18, told Tyra that having sex didn’t make her more popular, necessarily, “but it makes me feel better about myself. I was told from my old friends that I was fat and ugly and I couldn’t get a good guy.” I’m not saying these aren’t the real reasons the young women had sex. I just think it’s horribly reductive to only talk to sexually active girls with bad self-images — as if pheremones and having sex for pleasure doesn’t exist!
What’s more, due to all the role models being so negative, “The Tyra Show” had a really skeevy undercurrent of slut-shaming running through it. Tyra, the audience members, and the girls’ moms all contributed to making these girls feel ashamed, like when Tyra told one 15-year-old who said she had slept with 20 to 25 boys, “You know, that’s a lot more than a lot of ladies my age!” Gee, thanks, Tyra. Make her feel like a slut—that’ll help her self-esteem! Predictably, throughout the show, all but one girl teared up and renounced her sex-having ways. Would teenage boy guests be crying and telling their moms they feel so ashamed? Yeah, yeah, I know crying girls make for good TV. But can we puh-leeze move past the stereotype that a woman’s sexual history is something to be ashamed of? Why did every teen girl on “The Tyra Show” talking about her sex life have to cry about it?
It’s a shame: Tyra could have used this opportunity to sincerely talk about underage sex, discussing things like body image but also drawing on the sexualization of young women in the media and the paltry sex ed kids get in school. Instead, she just dragged a bunch of very sexually active teen girls on TV to, as far as I could tell, make them feel worse about themselves. Even Cooper Lawrence, the guest developmental psychologist on the show, agreed these girls were not representative of the sexual activity of most teens. And where were the young men? You know, I’m waiting for a Sex Summit with teen boys now—but not holding my breath.
Tyra, it is possible to be a teenage girl, have sex and regret it. It is possible not to regret it at all. Maybe it’s just not on “The Tyra Show”?