The popular Fox comedy “Glee” is set to air an episode Tuesday featuring two couples – the heterosexual Finn and Rachel and the homosexual Kurt and Blaine – losing their virginity. And even before it’s even hit the airwaves, the episode has sparked controversy.
EW’s PopWatch describes the episode, titled “The First Time,” as “incredibly moving” and says the sex scenes are “handled very delicately.” But television watchdog group the Parents Television Council is outraged by the controversial storyline and what it says is a “celebration” of teen sex.
“The fact that ‘Glee’ intends to not only broadcast, but celebrate children having sex is reprehensible. The gender of the high school characters involved is irrelevant. Teen sex is now more prevalent on TV than adult sex and ‘Glee’ is only playing into that trend,” PTC President Tim Winter told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column in a statement. “Research proves that television is a teen sexual super peer that can, and likely will, influence a teen’s decision to become sexually active. Fox knows the show inherently attracts kids; celebrating teen sex constitutes gross recklessness.”
New York-based public relations and media expert Adam Weiss of Weiss PR says the episode is an example of the envelope being pushed too far on teen-marketed TV.
“Whether straight or gay, such sexually charged scenes have no place in prime time, especially in shows watched by teens and children,” he said. “I think the show would have the same success without resorting to such raw sexuality.”
Liz Perle, editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media, counters that both teen sex and homosexuality are issues very understood by young people today.
“Loss of virginity has been a staple topic on teen-targeted television for years. Remember Brenda and Dylan on Beverly Hills 90210 in the ‘90s? By the time kids are old enough to watch ‘Glee,’ they probably know the facts of life. But that discussion is pretty different from the very specific ‘losing your virginity’ talk," she said. "Secondly, homosexuality is a part of life in our kids’ world — no matter what your family’s beliefs are. So when a popular show with lovable characters shows two dedicated couples deciding to consummate a sexual relationship, it's going to raise issues with straight and gay people and families who approach both premarital sex and homosexuality from different points of view.”
Instead of turning off the television, Perle urges parents to use examples like the forthcoming “Glee” episode as vehicles to prompt further discussion on the issue.
“The media can force these tough conversations on you before you’re ready. But in a world of bullying and stereotyping, you also don’t want the media to be making the call for you on how your kids should treat one another,” she continued. “The goal is to use media for good, and the bright side is that it can be a lot easier to have conversations outside your comfort zone when you're discussing fictional characters or situations. It’s vitally important that parents insert their own voices and values into these conversations alongside those kids hear in the media, so kids can learn from you, too.”
Los Angeles-based psychologist Dr. Nancy Irwin added that it is critical that the episode underscores consensual and safe sex, and that both parties are prepared psychologically as well as physically for taking the relationship to this next level. Irwin also said that it is an unfortunate reality that the gay relationship will most likely bring about more outrage in the community than the heterosexual one.
“Unfortunately, there is still considerable disapproval of gays in our culture, and this episode will probably spark controversy. Yet, in the end it will be a victory,” she said. “The envelope is already being pushed…young gays are having sex! I am confident that ‘Glee’ will handle this issue in an emotionally and psychologically healthy way, so that this young couple is coming of age in a positive, loving manner."
A rep for the show declined to comment, but “Glee” star Chris Colfer, who plays Blaine and apparently gets hot and heavy with on-screen beau Kurt (Darren Criss) in the highly-anticipated episode, isn’t surprised by the criticism.
“I absolutely expect to hear from (watchdog groups). It’s funny, I always go into this instant panic state whenever they tell me about upcoming episodes, because we always do so many delicate situations on the show,” Colfer told EW. “But then I get the script and we shoot it and it’s always handled so well that I never really had any reason to worry about it.”