TV Sex Influences Teen Behavior

Ed Palomar
CHICAGO — A new survey states that sex on television has an impact on the sexual behavior of adolescents. The Rand Corp. study reports that 12- to 17-year-olds who watched sexual content on television were twice as likely to be sexually active themselves the following year.

According to Rand behavioral scientist Rebecca Collins, the think tank’s survey defines sexual material on TV as ranging from jokes and double entendres to passionate kissing and making out to depictions of intercourse. The study focuses on 23 leading shows, including NBC’s “Friends,” FOX’s “That ’70s Show” and HBO’s “Sex and the City.”

However, aside from children’s, sports and news programming, television in general is saturated with sex. Up to two-thirds of all other programs contain varying degrees of sex.

From the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky reporting to the Scott Peterson murder case and Kobe Bryant rape allegations, television news is becoming increasingly sexualized. Previous reports have found that teenagers watch three hours of TV per day.

Over a two-year period, 1,792 teens were interviewed over the telephone about their viewing and sexual habits. The researchers received parental consent before conducting the interviews from 2001 to 2002.

Interestingly, the survey finds that the greater likelihood for teen viewers to engage in actual sex remains the same whether the sexual content comes in the form of dialogue or a graphic depiction.

“Exposure to TV that included only talk about sex was associated with the same risks as exposure to TV that depicted sexual behavior,” Collins said.

During the two-year period of the survey, the amount of adolescents who experienced sexual intercourse doubled from 18 percent to 36 percent. The number who engaged in other forms of sex rose from 62 percent to 75 percent.

Although the Rand study notes that other factors play roles in determining teen sexual activity, the survey concludes that television has a powerful influence. University of Texas School of Public Health researcher Liliana Escobar-Chaves said the survey indicates how important it is for parents to watch and talk about television and sex with their children.

Joan Irvine, the executive director of Adult Sites Against Child Pornography, told XBiz: “I agree with Escobar-Chaves that it is important for parents to view and discuss programs with children. It is a parent’s responsibility to instill personal moral values. If a parent doesn’t agree with the content of a TV program, they can block that program with the V-chip,” said Irvine.

The ASACP executive director went on to say, “Parents need to assume this same responsibility with what their children view on the Internet. Responsible adult webmasters indicate on their warning page if a person needs to be over 18 to view the content.”

Irvine added: “They use labeling suggested by ICRA, NetNanny, etc. ASACP recommends in its Best Practices page that the warning page should include all disclaimers, age verification, etc., and exclude images to prevent children from unknowingly viewing adult material.”