Three's Company: Pop Culture 'Knocks at the Door' of Group Sex

This season's pop culture forecast apparently calls for threesomes.


With the fall, teenage girls have gone back to the routine of math class, homework and homecoming. But some of those who create and market entertainment to them have their minds in a fundamentally different – and much lower – place. Britney Spears' latest song, “3,” dropped Sept. 29 and currently resides at the top of the Billboard charts. On TV, CW's “Gossip Girl,” a hit among girls and woman in the 12-34 age bracket, plans to feature a threesome in an upcoming episode.


And the menage-a-trois mania doesn't stop there. Threesome sex is the new weapon in Hollywood's ongoing raunchy bombardment of young people. At what point will entertainers recognize that the constant obsession with pushing sexual boundaries has become desperate, not edgy?


Sexual “Gossip”


For “Gossip Girl,” the news of a threesome episode screamed of a frenzied grasp for viewers. This year's season premiere garnered 2.6 million viewers, nearly a million less than the series debut in 2007. No stranger to controversy or hyper-sexualized teens, the season already featured a same-sex kiss between two male characters, one a lead character.


Mike Ausiello of Entertainment Weekly broke the news of “Gossip Girl's” latest sexual adventure on Oct. 6. Ausiello simply announced it, and then offered a list of possible combinations of characters that would make up the trio. Actress Leighton Meester plays Blair Waldorf, a wealthy teen queen bee on the show, and didn't appear to have any problems with the activities depicted on “Gossip Girl.” “We're all in college now, so we can definitely push the limit with the sexuality, which is fine by me,” she told MTV News. 


Admittedly, “Gossip Girl” has not earned a huge following, but it is popular among teen girls. Network executives crowed, following the fall 2009 premiere, “CW's signature Monday [of which “Gossip Girl” is part] finished first from 8 -10 p.m. with its core audience of women 18-34…females 12 – 34… and female teens. The CW also ranked second from 8-10 p.m. with adults.”


What harm is there in a TV show portraying a threesome – or any other sexual behavior?


Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the Parents Television Council, pointed out the dangers of showing sexual behavior on television aimed at teenagers, in particular, this planned episode of “Gossip Girl.” “Television influences behavior by altering a teen's perception of how many of their peers are sexually active and how much sexual experience they are expected to have,” Henson wrote in a column. “When television portrays attractive, popular teenage characters as sexually advanced, it sends a powerful message to young viewers that there is an expectation that they, too, should be that advanced; and in fact, there might be something wrong with them if they aren't.”


Since, as CW boasts, the show also appears popular with some adults, Henson asked about the “creepy” idea of networks using a teen-fueled threesome as bait for adult viewers. “Haven't we already heard enough horror stories about children being kidnapped, raped and exploited by perverts and pedophiles that we as a culture should be wary of creating a perception that teenaged children are seducers and sexual adventurers, ready and willing to engage in XXX-rated activities?  Do we really need television programs sending the reassuring message to would-be child predators that kids are eager to engage in this kind of behavior?”


“Gossip Girl” is not the first show to go down this path. Threesomes made up some of the milder sexual content on the FX program “Nip/Tuck,” and CBS's short-lived “Swingtown” also featured an episode with a threesome, but they've been depicted between adults, not teens. Other teen-oriented shows like Fox's “The O.C.” and NBC's “Friday Night Lights” joked about or mentioned threesomes, but stopped short of showing them on-screen.


Aside from an infamous 2003 “Without a Trace” episode in which the mystery centered around a teen orgy, networks have stayed away from depictions of group sex among teens. Perhaps the $3.6 million in fines levied at CBS by the FCC for that episode kept the networks aware that it is unacceptable to depict such behavior.


Perhaps CW executives should ask themselves if a risk of millions of dollars in fines is worth reeling in a few more viewers for a “shocking” episode.


One Not Enough for Britney


Even turning off the television won't keep children from being exposed to threesomes these days, thanks to everyone's favorite pop-tart, Britney Spears.


Spears' latest single “3,” currently reigns at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Digital Download charts, and it's only been out for three weeks.


The meaning of the song, while admittedly difficult to discern from a listening or two, quickly became apparent upon reading the lyrics.


“3” includes lines such as “Three is a charm/Two is not the same/I don't see the harm/So are you game?” Spears sings in the chorus, “1, 2, 3/Not only you and me/Got one eighty degrees/And I'm caught in between.” She also claims in the song, “Merrier the more” and “Livin' in sin is the new thing.” Moans punctuate the lyrics and the video leaves even less doubt that Spears is imploring a partner to engage in group sex.


Critics understand that Spears' ultimate goal with this song is to entice people to buy her new album, which drops on Nov. 24, three days before Black Friday. “It's less a single than a distraction, a perfectly capable club song that stands as a marketing device, one designed to help sell Spears' upcoming hits set, 'The Singles Collection'…'3' exists solely as a way to resell material fans probably already own,” wrote Todd Martens of the Los Angeles Times. 


Martens also noted that the “song stays close to the Spears playbook of sex and more sex.”


Rolling Stone pointed out that the song's producer, Max Martin, also created other controversial songs like Katy Perry's “I Kissed a Girl” and Spears' not-so-clever “If U Seek Amy,” which sung quickly sounded like she spelled out “f--- me.” Rolling Stone additionally mentioned that this is not the first song to mention threesomes as the alternative rock group Jane's Addiction covered the topic in its song, “Three Days.”


Rolling Stone and the LA Times naturally refused to examine the effect Spears' message has on her listeners. CMI previously reported that music lyrics have an effect on teens' behavior. A Pediatrics study published in 2006 found that adolescents who listen to music with degrading sexual lyrics were more likely to initiate sexual intercourse and engage in other sexual behavior. Researchers found in a 2003 study that 16 percent of high schoolers ranked music among the top three sources of moral guidance.


Images contained in Spears' accompanying video also go a long way to perpetuate a sexual activity that's not healthy for teens or children. Carol Platt Liebau wrote in her book, “Prude,” “The influence of sexualized pop singers like Britney Spears can be harmful to girls as young as six. Even as the 'pop tarts' project a youthful image that encourages young girls to identify with them, they show young girls, who are still in the process of developing their own sense of self, that sex appeal is the only quality that matters.”


Liebau also spoke of an “amplification effect” in which “music heightens whatever emotion the listener is already feeling.” That effect, Liebau argued, “raises the possibility, at least in theory, that music can lead a hard-partying or romantic girl to push the limits further than she otherwise would in a moment of youthful exuberance.” As for arguments that claim that videos or song lyrics can only temporarily affect emotions, Liebau pointed out, “life-changing choices (such as the decision to engage in unprotected sex) can be made during the course of an afternoon or a wild night out.” Temporary effects can cause lasting consequences.


Unoriginal Content Rules the Airwaves

 

Songs and programs dedicated to pushing sexual boundaries show a lack of creativity. Anybody can create a tantalizing story arc or pop song about sex, especially if it's a one-time deal like the “Gossip Girl” episode appears to be. It takes true talent to develop a series or music that doesn't depend on cheap, tired clichés to remain relevant.  


The worst part of these recent pop-culture developments is that Hollywood and the music industry failed to see the evident desperation behind these ridiculous ploys. Sure, “Gossip Girl” might pull in a couple more viewers for that episode, and a few more people might buy Spears' new album, but it's coming at a huge cost of the messages sent to teens and even adults, that threesomes are part and parcel of normal, everyday relationships.


And it always leads to the question, how low can Hollywood go?