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Category: Art and Entertainment, Education, Media

Midwest Teen Sex Show: Can Sex Ed Actually Be Entertaining?

| July 20, 2009

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Nikol Hasler of MTSS

As the author reports, the creators of the podcast believe humor and honest information about sex for teens do mix, and programmers at Comedy Central think they may be on to something.

It’s no secret that sex can be hilarious and bizarre; in fact, popular culture depends on it. But the rise of the Midwest Teen Sex Show reveals that hilarity also mixes well with sex education.

While it markets itself with a logo silhouetting two cows getting it on, the Midwest Teen Sex Show calls its project “sex information.” Over the last two years, MTSS developed a strong fan base for funny and clear videos about sexuality.

In five-minute episodes streaming free online and via podcast subscription, MTSS explicitly looks to fill a void in comprehensive sex education and in media mis-portrayals of teens and sexuality. Episode topics range from “Female Masturbation” to “Prom,” “Birth Control” to “Gym Class,” and beyond.

It looks like more people than ever may be paying attention: after expressing interest following its third episode, Comedy Central has invited MTSS to make a full-length pilot episode this summer that may leap the online favorite to cable television. The news comes shortly after MTSS videos and fan groups were pulled from YouTube, Facebook and MySpace, which contended that they conflicted with community guidelines. The social networking sites have not directly responded to the show’s inquiries.

“Comedy Central has been fantastic,” said Guy Clark, MTSS creator. “We're taking the podcast format and translating it to a bigger canvas. So often we'd cover a topic and barely skim the surface of what we wanted to talk about. With a longer running time, larger cast, and more production resources we can bring to viewers more comedy, more information, and better wigs.” Yes, he said “wigs.” Better bring the popcorn to the premiere.

In its current form, MTSS is made as a "labor of love" by a core group of five Midwesterners supported by the sponsorship of Koldcast TV. “It's become a full time job in hours, but not income,” said Clark.

Nikol Hasler, host of MTSS, is co-executive producing the pilot. Of Comedy Central’s interest, she says, “three years ago, I was excited because I got an office job instead of fast food. I never saw this as a possibility.” Now that it is one, Hasler is given to reflect on her role with the show. “Creating something that meant something to me was so much fun, so important. I want people to know, girls especially, that they can do something for themselves, no matter what avenue they come from.”

Despite the show’s moniker, its audience isn’t just teens; the majority of viewers are aged 13 to 24, with, according to Clark, “the biggest block being college kids and twenty-somethings. Though many of our viewers are out of high school, they still watch the show for entertainment and the occasional information they might not know. We've gotten emails from people who tell us that they have dorm room parties where they watch all the episodes.”

Hasler, whose MTSS rise has her spending a great deal of time talking with young people about sexuality, attributes the show’s fan base to the mix of humor and candor. “If you want to get your point across, you make people laugh,” Hasler said. “At the same time, there’s a really honest tone to what we do. It’s not alarmist, making people run around screaming, ‘I’m going to get herpes!’”

Kim Lakov is a fan who appreciates the MTSS approach. A University of Arizona student, Lakov (who asked that a pseudonym be used) likes the show because “it's a good mix of straight-forward information and complete insanity.” While she watches for entertainment first—she’s familiar with much of the show’s information—she notes, “I didn't know most of this when I was in high school. It would have been cool to watch this in my sex-ed class instead of some of the less-than-informative videos we had to suffer through.”

Wendy, a 19-year-old student at Brown University (who asked that her last name not be used), says her sex education in middle and high school “consisted of little more than being shown pictures of STI-infected genitals. It taught me that I really, really don't want chlamydia, but not much else.” MTSS, says Wendy, “manages to cover basic sexual health while also addressing issues teenagers might actually want to hear about—hooking up, masturbation, how to not get pregnant … Hopefully, now that funding for abstinence-only sex ed has been cut, sex education will become more like MTSS.”

For herself, the show has “helped me be more open in my relationship about what works for me,” Wendy says. “The sense of humor of the writers really appeals to me: yes, there are serious sides to the issues they're talking about but sex is supposed to be fun.”

John Paul Vella, a student at a Catholic high school in Rochester, New York, agrees that the show helps make it easier to talk honestly about sexual information. “You can actually learn something without that conversation about where babies come from.” Vella says that, “This'll definitely help a lot of people with otherwise awkward situations.”

Lakov believes that the show has earned something of a cult following because “teens are sick of having things sugar-coated for them. Teens are curious, and many will act on that curiosity with or without accurate information,” she adds. “MTSS doesn't lecture or judge; it treats every topic covered as something completely normal and natural.”

In Hasler’s conversations, teens tell her about skewed information they learn in school. “They’ll get statistics like, condoms only work 40 percent of the time,” Hasler says. “When teens learn actual facts, they become more confident, they teach their peers.”

The needs of teens for comprehensive sex information directly influenced the creation of the show. “I saw that there was disparity between what teens were asking and the answers they were getting from traditional institutions,” Clark said. “MTSS was a way to package the info into an entertaining resource that both teens and adults would want to watch.”

At the same time, MTSS challenges regional preconceptions picked up from mainstream media. “I was disheartened by the messages being sent out regarding the lavish lives of rich, coast-dwelling teenagers,” says Clark. “Plus,” adds Hasler, the show’s Midwest slant “allows us to make more cow jokes, which you can never have too many of.”

From those lusty cows to “Vagistonia,” to the helpful rule on douches (“Would you date one? Then don’t use one”), MTSS keeps humor at the forefront. “We diffuse sex and get people talking. Turns out—people like sex,” Clark says. Who knew?

The MTSS pilot will be reviewed, and potentially picked up by Comedy Central in the fall. In the meantime the online community of the Midwest Teen Sex Show resides at www.midwestteensexshow.com.

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