'A Shot at Love' Explores (and Exploits) Bisexuality

They used to call them Peeping Toms.

But today's voyeurs have television to thank for a second season of MTV's "A Shot at Love."

The sexy reality show stars Tila Tequila, a 25-year-old former Vietnamese model who, at 4 feet, 6 inches tall, describes herself as "the baddest bitch on the block."

The Internet queen was plucked from MySpace, where she was reportedly the "most friended" in the networking site's history, according to MTV officials.

The dating game show features 16 straight men and 16 lesbians who court bisexual Tequila, nee Nguyhen, for her affection. Cavorting in her bedroom and performing puerile tasks, the suitors are ultimately whittled down to one of each sex.

"MTV is upping the ante and pushing the envelope," Kristen Fyfe, senior writer for the Culture and Media Institute, told ABC News. "What they see as cutting-edge programming is, in fact, voyeurism."

Sex clearly sells, in all varieties. But the popularity of this titillating show is the focus on the new sexual preference du jour — bisexuality.

"A Shot at Love" debuted last October at No. 1 in its time period across all of cable in the 18-34 demographic. The season finale had 6.2 million viewers, making it the network's highest-rated telecast since 2005, according to MTV.

For many of today's women in their late teens and 20s, openness to intimate physical relationships with either gender has become a way of life, rather than an "experiment."

Psychological studies on sexual orientation have burgeoned in the last decade with more open attitudes on sexual exploration. Television — in its competition for young, hip viewers — is capitalizing on the phenomenon.

Images of both gay men and women are commonplace now — Ellen DeGeneres, in her 2001 sitcom "Ellen," paved the way for the "fab five" on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and campy "Will and Grace."

"What was once the unspeakable and invisible has become very much a part of public discourse," according to University of Virginia psychologist Charlotte Patterson, who wrote a study titled "Sexual Orientation Across the Life Span."

But some see the display of highly charged sex and dating shows — either gay or straight — as voyeuristic and maybe even harmful to MTV's target audience, which includes children as young as 12.

The impact of MTV "cannot be understated," according to Fyfe of the Virginia-based Culture and Media Institute, and can be "destructive."

In a scathing critique of the show, Fyfe cites research by the conservative-leaning Parents Television Council that shows MTV is watched more than six hours a week on average by 73 percent of boys and 78 percent of girls aged 12 to 19.

And because it is on cable, it's not regulated by broadcast decency laws.

"The cable networks can get away with [these shows] and takes the viewers where they don't need to see," she said. "It doesn't do anything for our culture."

Council research shows that watching MTV results in more permissive attitudes about sex. One study found that seventh and ninth graders were more likely to approve of premarital sex after watching MTV for just one hour.

"We keep bemoaning the fact that kids are more sexually active, and when we see what they are consuming in the media, we act surprised," said Fyfe. The show "sends the wrong message to kids. They experiment with all kinds of things, and if you don't think they take things in from TV, they have their heads in the sand."

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