"Does this help?" is what I wondered watching Tyra Banks try to pin down a squirming, monosyllabic Levi Johnston on whether he and Bristol had used protection each and every time they had sex. "Even when the baby was conceived?" "Yup," came the response. When Levi finally conceded that they had used protection "most of the time," Tyra, admittedly a dogged interviewer, broke into a grin, and the audience laughed and applauded.
Okay, so she caught him. There’s a tiny chink in the raft of pretenses swirling around the conception of Tripp Johnston. As entertainment, it’s not bad (Tyra worked in a "wardrobe malfunctions" joke). But it’s a sorry excuse for sex ed. A persistent, almost meddling adult; a young person who really doesn’t want to be there; and a studio audience laughing along — I really can’t imagine anything worse. And yet there’s something appealing about Tyra’s no-nonsense approach — she’d make a pretty good big sister, if a bad sex ed teacher. But in our sexually schizophrenic society, a talk show host takes the place of a big sister who takes the place of a sexuality education teacher. Can we just get some comprehensive sex ed into schools already, so these conversations can happen organically, between people who know and care about each other, and not televised to millions?
Levi’s response to Tyra’s questions about how he and Bristol could have sex while presidential candidate Palin was pushing abstinence-only was perhaps the most telling moment of the interview. Tyra asked whether he had ever thought, "Bristol’s mom is teaching this stance, and we are totally not doing that?"
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"We didn’t really think about it like that," was Levi’s response. Sounds about right. Abstinence sounds good to a lot of people in theory — including those who sign True Love Waits pledges. And then, research suggests, they don’t wait. If only we tried to figure out how teens do think about it, and talk to them on those terms.