Sex Video A Barometer Of Teens' Attitudes Three Neshaminy High School Students Were Suspended For Making A Sexually Explicit Tape. One Expert Says Mixed Messages Bombard Youths.

Posted: February 10, 2001

When it came to light this week that a Neshaminy High School girl had videotaped two classmates having sex in the auditorium - and proudly showed the tape in school the following day - parents and teachers were aghast.

Students, however, were barely atwitter.

"I guess they were trying to express themselves," said senior Lauren Moore. "People were shocked, but really it was nothing big."

After all, Neshaminy is the school where shock-jock Howard Stern himself spoke on the loudspeaker last year to endorse the winning candidate for student body president.

But it's also the red-white-and-blue Bucks County school where George W. Bush visited to promote his own presidential candidacy - an upper-middle-class suburban school where some parents, school officials and even police were scandalized at the revelation.

"You just don't do that kind of stuff in public areas, I'm sorry," said Lt. Pat McGinty of the Middletown Township police, almost at a loss for words yesterday.

The three teens involved in the Jan. 8 taping, two age 15 and one 16, have been suspended and face juvenile misdemeanor charges and possible expulsion for what their peers consider the ultimate act of rebellion.

"It's just a compete lack of respect," said Virginia D. Coyne, 59, who sent three children through Neshaminy High. "Children are not taught respect for schools. Morals are declining and declining."

But area sex educators say it's time to get real: The videotape, while disturbing, is merely evidence of widespread sexual experimentation among teens, who are bombarded daily with media messages promoting promiscuity.

It's not simply a case of TV-crazed teens acting out sex-soaked music videos, they say, but a more subtle pressure to be sexy and take risks. For teens, sex has become omnipresent in a way their parents - many of them the rebels of the 1960s - never had to deal with.

"Most of what is pumped through the media into their homes is not promoting healthy choices or healthy lives," said Marlene Pray, a sex educator for Planned Parenthood who teaches Bucks County teens to be wise to unrealistic media portrayals of sexuality.

"Nothing about this incident surprises me," Pray said yesterday.

The video, shot by one of the girls, shows scenes from a student's home and from the school's auditorium. According to students who have seen it, the film depicts body painting, girls flashing their breasts at the camera and - toward the end - sexual intercourse between a male and a female student on a couch used by drama students for rehearsals.

Was it meant to be art? Pornography? Or was it simply an attention-getting stunt?

"I think they did it totally for attention," said Bob O'Donnell, a senior who saw the video.

Neither police nor school administrators offer any answers. And no one is sure exactly where the videotape is now.

Middletown police charged the three with making an obscene video, indecent exposure, open lewdness and disorderly conduct. Their cases would be adjudicated by the Bucks County Juvenile Court before expulsion would be considered.

Police were called by school authorities after a female student walked into the auditorium in the middle of the taping and was stunned and offended by what she saw, McGinty said.

A drama teacher later found a used condom on the floor back stage, students reported.

The episode does not put Neshaminy High in the best light with locals.

"The school should have done better to not allow something like this to go on," said Coyne, who expressed outrage as she shopped yesterday at Oxford Valley Mall.

"There was pressure when I was a teen, but you had parents and the wrath of the community, and it was a disgrace to do things like this," she said. "Nowadays, anything goes."

The Rev. Ken Miller, pastor of Bucks County Community Church in nearby Langhorne, said he was disappointed to hear of the tape but not particularly shocked.

"It's a shame. But I think it reflects who we are as a culture," he said. "Pornography is becoming a commonplace thing. . . . Kids have digital cameras, take pictures of themselves to send on the Internet. I guess I'm learning not to be shocked."

School officials said students took it pretty well - much better, in fact, than some adults.

"Our students are handling this with much more maturity than many of the adults in the media," said Neshaminy High principal Mark Collins, whose school had an unwelcome visit on Thursday from members of the media.

Collins said his staff had responded to the incident with sensitivity, and that a month after the fact, the issue was pretty much dead on campus.

But for Pray, who is the director of education for the Planned Parenthood Association of Bucks County, the issue of misguided teen sexuality lives on in ways more dangerous than a homemade pornography tape.

Pray said her colleagues keep a file of ads, which they bring into the schools to teach students to "decode" advertising messages.

Once unscrambled, Pray said, the messages aren't pretty. "They use sex to sell things and they use violence," she said. "Young people don't get taught a way to interpret, analyze what they're being hit with."

Matt Blanchard's e-mail address is mblanchard@phillynews.com.

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