THE MATRON OF BEVERLY HILLS

Where do today's young adults learn about sex? Not from television, as you might expect. But rather from, well, television has-beens.

We made the discovery in a subterranean auditorium in the University of Minnesota student union. Flanked by two incredibly robust fake trees, Eli introduces the proceedings from a stool, stage-right--his three unfastened shirt buttons revealing a Chia pet of graying chest hair. "I'd like to introduce you to..." Eli begins, then pauses, turns his head to read the projected title off the screen over his shoulder, and continues "Sex in the X Generation."

Enter Gabrielle Carteris in black leggings and a black mesh shirt--97 perky pounds of American Grade-B celebrity, pumping her fist like a small, white Arsenio. After five successful seasons playing Andrea Zuckerman, the designated egghead among the beach babes of Beverly Hills 90210, Carteris stepped into the syndicated shadow of talk-show hostess Ricki Lake. Six months later, by the ineluctable electronic Darwinism of Nielsen ratings, Carteris's show was canceled. That's when natural selection really kicked in: Carteris now applies her talents to a campaign against unprotected sex. She stopped in town recently on a tour of college campuses, underwritten in full by the philanthropic largess of Ortho Pharmaceuticals. Who just happen to make a little product called the Pill.

Gabrielle duck-walks across the stage in sync to the soft-rock stylings of a hired DJ. Two student volunteers collect audience questions on pre-printed Sex in the X Generation 3-by-5-inch cards. And while we are encouraged to ask about STDs and their sordid acquisition, the temptation to embarrass our petite MC is compelling: How much silicone went into Tori Spelling? Does the squat and muscular Brandon Walsh ingest 'roids behind the Peach Pit? Just how old are you anyway?

At 35, Gabrielle could be our racy junior high health teacher. Only smaller. She cannot finish a sentence. Her verbs sneak away from her subjects like a sophomore slinking away at daybreak after a beery one-night stand. Just what did Gabrielle learn about the rich variety of human sexuality from her own talk show? "I guess, you know, something I knew--what I really discovered was that sometimes things can happen to anybody. People really don't--I'm so surprised how many people don't know when it comes to HIV or STDs. They don't know they're pregnant--I mean, I don't know how you don't know that--but people really feel they don't know. There's a real problem out there."

The head of the student health service offers Carteris's credentials as a "social activist--someone with a social conscience," listing Carteris's volunteer work for American libraries and DARE, the psychological operations and youth indoctrination unit of the War on Drugs. Carteris claims she's been a safe sex zealot for years. "When I was 15 years old," she says, "I was taking friends to Planned Parenthood. Before I was even an actor I was doing stuff." While Carteris has been paid for this appearance, she selected it from among other such assignments. "There's a lot of offers," she says hopefully.

Next on the agenda: "Sex and Consequences." Gabrielle asks the questions. Three computer gearheads hack away at a bank of laptop computers, interpreting the data provided from 200 interactive audience response consoles: 74 percent female, 33 percent first-year students, 60 percent sexually active. Gabrielle explores the significance of our responses with Ramona Slupik, M.D., head of pediatric gynecology at Northwestern University. Where Gabrielle is animated and chatty, Ramona is terse and hard-boiled. Ramona says that a third of us will contract an STD by the time we graduate the U. She takes a hard line on oral sex and condoms, endorsing the dental dam as a way of life.

Equally candid is a group of women in the front row. One inquires frankly about the anatomical risks of intercourse involving a man with a really enormous penis. Gabrielle asks the cable crews to take five. A woman who participates in an on-stage peer-pressure role play wears a catchy novelty T-shirt: "Protect Your Johnson--Even if it is Magic." Another young woman sticks a piece of bubble gum to the side of her glass of lemonade. One wonders if all these young scholars are ready for Sex in the X Generation. Not to mention sex with freakishly endowed frat boys.

And then, as if at the beckoning of some invisible teleprompter, the hour is almost up. Gabrielle circulates with a wad of low-denomination bills, distributing cash to anyone with a condom in hand. Meanwhile, teams of Ortho Pharmaceuticals employees pile free plastic-packed giveaway bags on parallel tables blocking the hall's only exit. No one gets out of here without two Neutrogena transparent facial bars and a packet of pamphlets. And for the ladies: sanitary napkins. *

--Michael Tortorello

PUBLICDOMAIN

You watch the 10 o'clock news, so you already know about the threat of Crackcrazedguntotinginnercitybl*ckp**pl*. So you'll be as shocked as we were to learn that ANIMAL BITES pose an even greater risk to the Twin Cities population. According to a report obtained by City Pages (OK, Animal Control mailed it to us), animal bites--"skin breakage caused by the teeth of a warm-blooded animal"--are reported five times as often as murder. That's 484 dog bites and 76 cat bites in 1995 alone. When we dug deeper we found dozens of "code ABITE"s in the police files. Here are a few of the chilling tales we found, quoted verbatim from the files:

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