Thursday, November 29, 2007

midwest teen sex show

Sex-Ed Podcast Is Frank,
Funny and Controversial
November 8, 2007; Page B1

Episode No. 4 of "The Midwest Teen Sex Show," a new video podcast, opens with a shot of a young woman holding a crying baby. Nearby, two young boys are noisily scuffling and trading noogies. Looking into the camera, the obviously stressed-out mother of three says nothing, but her expression says: How did I get into this mess?

Seconds later, the episode's title, "Birth Control," flashes on the screen.

Nikol Hasler and sons in the 'Birth Control' episode of 'The Midwest Teen Sex Show'; she says the older boys are 'actually very proud of me.'
That sort of wry, pointed presentation has helped the show lure thousands of viewers since its debut this past summer. Some may have been attracted by the provocative title, but this isn't pornography. Instead, it aims to teach teenagers about sex using risqué sketches, explicit language and anecdotes that draw on the teenage experiences of its two 28-year-old creators -- host Nikol Hasler, the aforementioned woman, and Guy Clark, an aspiring filmmaker.

The two felt that existing sexual-education efforts were far too prim -- and boring -- to be useful to teens. Their podcast focuses less on birds-and-bees basics and more on real-life scenarios teens are likely to face.

In "The Older Boyfriend," which warns teenage girls against taking up with a guy in his 20s or 30s, Ms. Hasler says, "You may think you're pretty cool for having an older boyfriend, but what you have to remember is he's not cool for dating you. He's a loser. And you can find plenty of losers to date at school."

More than 50,000 people subscribe to the podcast through iTunes. The "Midwest Teen Sex Show" is listed under iTunes' "Health" category, where it regularly is in the top 10. Yesterday, it was No. 7, compared with Discovery Health Channel at No. 20.

Along with growth has come controversy, particularly among sex-education teachers and therapists. While some praise it for tapping a hard-to-reach audience, others worry it's too racy for younger teens, and still others say the podcast focuses too much on humor and not enough on the facts kids need.


• "Birth Control"
• "The Older Boyfriend"
• "Abstinence"
• "Gym Class"

Do you find this video podcast refreshing or offensive? Would you let your kids watch? Share your comments on The Juggle blog.Amy Bryant, the editor of Planned Parenthood's site, says she has mixed feelings about the show. "On the one hand, it's edgy and gets teens talking about their health," she says. She's concerned, however, that the content isn't medically reviewed. (The show's Web site has a disclaimer that "all advice given is simply opinion and should not be taken as fact.")

It's the show's tone, not overall subject matter, that has drawn more criticism. Deborah Roffman, a sex-education teacher who works in Baltimore schools, says, "I can see why it would be very popular with kids. It's daring, it's very open, and it's funny, and it has information that they would find very useful. "At the same time, it is satirical in nature," she says, adding that unless teens are intellectually sophisticated, it's not "the right vehicle." She says further: "The entertainment value of this material is not the same thing as its educational value."

One early-episode joke was a crash course in dealing with viewer feedback and balancing the show's tone with acceptable taste. In "The Older Boyfriend" episode, Ms. Hasler says, "If you're in junior high and you're dating someone who's out of high school, he's a pedophile. And pedophilia's a disease. Would you date someone with cancer? No."

The remark drew a torrent of angry responses on the program's Web site, and in emails. But Ms. Hasler remains unapologetic. "We have no intention of changing our style or changing the type of humor we use," she says. "We're going to make the same jokes that cause the same amount of controversy."

Mr. Clark says his goal was to create a podcast that teens wouldn't feel was condescending -- and in the process show off his cinematography skills to would-be employers. He and Ms. Hasler are friends from high school who reconnected at her last birthday party. He asked her to host the show shortly thereafter. "I suppose that the fact that I had two kids before I was even of the legal drinking age would've been a good indicator that I knew a thing or two about sex," she says. "Plus, I'm really funny."

The podcast's third collaborator is Britney Barber, a 25-year-old Chicago comedian who plays characters in many of the show's sketches and holds a day job at a warehouse. She met Mr. Clark and Ms. Hasler after responding to an ad on Craigslist.

The three don't earn any money on the podcast but are looking for advertisers. For now, they work on a shoestring budget: Episodes are filmed at Ms. Hasler's Waukesha, Wis., home and Mr. Clark's mother's house in Woodstock, Ill., a two-hour drive from Waukesha.

Britney Barber in opening credits for 'Midwest Teen Sex Show' video series
Scenes are often lit with a bare light bulb attached to the ceiling with duct tape. Bric-a-brac from Ms. Barber's apartment is used to outfit many of the sketches: She has loaded up her car to bring a rubber chicken, mannequin bust, tambourines, nunchakus and a fire marshal's hat to shoots.

Ms. Hasler, who works as an office manager for a company that sells vegan products, often draws on her own life in the show. In an episode on abstinence, after making it clear she's skeptical that teens can be persuaded not to have sex, she goes on to say, "You can't just ... decide to have sex with somebody because you think it'll keep them around. Trust me, it won't."

In another episode, focused on the self-consciousness that crops up in gym class, she says, "I hated my body in high school, but if I had that body now, I'd strut around the locker room. I'd go to other high schools and strut around their locker rooms. You should appreciate what you have."

"Definitely, I rely heavily on my own experience," Ms. Hasler says. As a child, she spent time in more than a dozen foster homes, and became sexually active at age 11. She would have benefited from a show like the one she's making, she says. "I want to reach out and shake these kids by their shoulders."

She doesn't shy away from the questions her two older sons -- one is nine years old, the other seven -- have about sex, though not everything on "Midwest" gets discussed.

"I give them as much information as they can handle," Ms. Hasler says. Of her job as the show's host, she adds, "they're actually very proud of me."

Online Sex Ed Reaches Teens
Lauren Leamanczyk

WAUKESHA - A Waukesha mom is creating a stir online with her "Midwest Teen Sex Show." The podcast is regularly one of the most downloaded on iTunes.

Nikol Hasler and her two partners use humor and blunt sarcasm to talk to teens about sexuality.

For example, an episode warns teenage girls not to date older guys. Nikol says to the camera, "You might think you're cool for having an older boyfriend. But what you have to remember is he's not cool for dating you. He's a loser, and you can find plenty of losers to date at school."

It's advice few could argue with. But other episodes are more controversial. In the one titled abstinence, Nikol, with trademark humor, tells teens that abstinence is the way to avoid STD's and unwanted pregnancies.

Later, though they joke around that remaining abstinent is "boring." "Sex takes practice. You can't just read a book to learn how to do it. So how else are you going to learn?" viewers hear before a graphic pops up reading "porn."

Hasler says she's not there to take the place of sex ed classes or parents. "I think people have an idea that we're out there trying to provide education. We're just trying to open communication. We're making them laugh, giving them a place to talk about these things," she told TODAY'S TMJ4 reporter Lauren Leamanczyk.

Abstinence groups say while there are many positive aspects to the "Midwest Teen Sex Show," it also sends a mixed message. Some parents think it may go too far. "What's really frightening is to think that you have no control over the message," said mom Karen Schwenke.

Some experts say the information isn't as strong as the entertainment value.

Hasler maintains she's not encouraging sexual activity, just acknowledging that some teens are having sex.

"We just want them to be safe about it she says."

And a message of waiting until your ready is prevalent throughout the online episodes.

The message appears to be getting across. With thousands of online viewers and hundreds of e-mails, Hasler is seeing success she never expected.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home