ABC soap opera tackles teen sex and pregnancy

LOS ANGELES Fri Mar 7, 2008 9:55pm EST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An ABC soap opera has waded into the controversial subject of teenage sex with a story about the first sexual experience of a 16-year-old girl that parallels the real-life situation of teen idol Jamie Lynn Spears.

A producer for daytime soap "One Life to Live" said on Friday that before Spears announced she was pregnant, the show's writers and producers had already begun planning episodes in which teen character Starr Manning, played by Kristen Alderson, has sex with her 17-year-old boyfriend.

"This is something that made sense for our characters," Frank Valentini, the show's executive producer told Reuters. "We certainly don't mean to be sensational but we do feel it's important to introduce contemporary and relevant topics."

Spears, 16, is the kid sister of troubled pop singer Britney Spears and a child star in her own right playing a schoolgirl in the Nickelodeon TV network's popular "Zoey 101."

Spears shocked her fans in December when she revealed she was pregnant with a child fathered by her teenage boyfriend.

Valentini said the "One Life to Live" characters' sex episode aired this week and will be followed by about 40 more chronicling the fallout from that decision.

"We will be able to explore more of that reality, day in and day out, and how it will affect her family and her friends, and how people view her," Valentini said. "It's not going to be glamorous at all."

The teen-sex storyline is not the first for an ABC soap, but at 16 and 17, the characters are younger than any other ABC soap couple to have sex and, possibly, a pregnancy.

Walt Disney Co-owned ABC steps into the controversy over teenage sex and its consequences fueled in recent months by an upward spike last year in U.S. teen pregnancy, as well as by Spears' situation.

Critics also say teen and unwed pregnancy has been glamorized by Hollywood in films like recent Oscar nominee "Juno," a comedy in which a 16-year-old gets pregnant and seeks out a couple to adopt her child.

To stem any outcry over the "One Life to Live" storyline, ABC joined with the nonprofit National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy to use the episodes as teaching tools.

Alderson started a weekly blog to discuss what's happening on the show, and will appear in a public service announcement set to run on May 7 -- Teen Pregnancy Prevention Day.

"I definitely would have taken things slower than Starr and some teens that I've met in my life," Alderson wrote on March 7. "I'd like to think that I take a mature approach and think about things before doing them."

Reuters/Nielsen

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