"Scared Straight" Filmmaker Tackles Teens and Sex

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

(CNS) - The producer of a famous documentary that attempted to scare teens out of crime is tackling a new and equally inflammatory subject - teen sexuality, and its sometimes deadly consequences.

Arnold Shapiro, who won an Emmy for his famous 1978 documentary "Scared Straight," which showed teens the horrors of prison life in an attempt to scare them out of a life of crime, is unveiling the latest in a series of one-hour films on various teen subjects. Called "The Truth About Sex," the documentary will air this Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time on the UPN network as part of a seven-part series called The Teen Files.

The series has also taken up such topics as smoking, alcohol abuse, body image, and violence.

"The Truth About Sex" features many of the confrontational tactics of "Scared Straight."

In the film, teens who are at risk for unintended pregnancy and contracting sexually-transmitted diseases are shown the consequences of their actions in an attempt to make them think about their sexuality.

The film's scenes include a teen couple who visit two single parents; interviews with teens and their parents on sex at the high school prom; and a group of sexually-active teens who visit a microbiology lab to see the effects of various STDs, and later talk to a counselor who turns out to be HIV-positive.

Throughout, the message remains the same: Actions have consequences.

Shapiro, executive producer of the series, along with writer and director Allison Grodner, wanted to do something that forced teens to think beyond the moment.

"Teens don't think long-term, and rarely think that anything bad will happen to them," Shapiro told CNSNews.com. "In more cases than not, when we show them the possible immediate consequences of their actions, they are affected to the point of change."

Shapiro said that the aim of the series is not to preach at teens or draw specific moral or ethical conclusions for them.

"We're not lecturing them, we're not drawing any conclusions for them," said Shapiro. "We're just saying, 'If you do this, this is what might happen.'"

Sex educators and lecturers in abstinence say that such an approach has merit, though some question if a truly effective method of abstinence education can be devoid of ethical concerns.

"Scare tactics are useful so far as they go," said Mary Beth Bonacci, head of Real Love Productions, who lectures nationwide on abstinence issues. "But the greatest desire a teenager has is to love and be loved, and that desire - and the notion that they can gain that love through sex - is often greater than their fear of death."

"I've often said that what teens need is not more sex education," Bonacci told CNSNews.com, "but more love education."

Bonacci said that she thought that it would be possible to fashion a sex education curriculum "based upon the premise of 'Do unto others as you would have done unto you," teaching ethical values without entering into sectarianism.

"We have to ask them, 'Do you really love your girlfriend, boyfriend, or future spouse?' We could show teens that real love wouldn't expose those people to physical danger," said Bonacci.

Kaitlyn Aldrey, who sits on the sex education advisory board for a school district in the Washington, D.C., area - and who is the mother of four children, praised "The Teen Files" for "attempting to wake kids up without using religious themes that would prohibit the film from being viewed in a public school."

Aldrey told CNSNews.com, "Yes, we need to get kids thinking about values and moral issues, especially when it comes to sex, but first we need to help save their lives by showing them that 'safe sex' is not going to keep them" from getting a sexually-transmitted disease.