September 9, 2004
A recent survey conducted by the RAND Corporation indicates a strong correlation between teenage sexual activity and the television shows young people watch.
The average U.S. teenager watches three hours of television a day, and during that time is likely to be subjected to heavy doses of sexual content, including depictions of kissing and other sexual touching; jokes, innuendos, and conversations about sexual activity; and even simulated intercourse. But while televised sex is often presented as a casual activity devoid of risks or serious consequences, recent research reveals that for teens, even just watching sex on TV is not without consequences.
RAND researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 adolescents, first in 2001 and then again in 2002, asking young people how often they watched 23 popular shows heavy in sexual content, and whether they engaged in various sexual activities. The study revealed a definite link between what kids watched and their subsequent sexual behavior.
The results, published in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics, found youths that reported watching a lot of television with sexual content were about twice as likely to start having intercourse during the subsequent year as those with little exposure to televised sex.
Study Vindicates Pro-Family Alarms
The RAND study found that watching TV sex appears to hasten the initiation of teen sexual activity. Also, interestingly, the researchers found no difference between the effect of discussions of sex and depictions of sex -- sexual talk on TV had the same effect on teens as did depictions of sex. And perhaps most significantly, the survey responses suggested that shows with content about contraception and pregnancy can help to educate teens about the risks and consequences of sex, as well as to "foster beneficial dialogue between teens and parents."
However, according to an Associated Press report, a scientist with the RAND Corporation made note of the fact that most TV programs that depict sexual situations rarely -- if ever -- deal with the negative consequences of teen sex -- consequences that most adolescents are unprepared to face. However, a media spokesman with Viacom responded to the survey's warnings by commenting that television is merely "one of many factors that influence young people's lives."
But while many media representatives and public policy leaders scoff at or downplay the effects that sexual content on television can have on children, a number of pro-family figures have been decrying the proliferation of media sex as unhealthy for children for some time now.
Media expert and pro-family advocate Ted Baehr of the Christian Film and Television Commission has been a leading voice in that debate for years, and is even now spearheading a campaign "against the pagan sexualization of children and teenagers by the mass media." The campaign was prompted in part by the upcoming release of a new film that glorifies the life and work of Alfred Kinsey, whose fraudulent and anti-Christian sex research helped lay the foundation of the so-called "sexual revolution."
As part of a public information effort, Baehr's organization will produce, promote, and distribute educational materials revealing "the dangers of Kinsey's sexual paganism and the mass media's psychotic obsession with sex, especially their destructive impact on the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of most children and teenagers."
Educating Parents and Teens
The National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families has also been working toward informing families and the public about this problem, and has developed a curriculum called "Sex & Young America" to help parents and teens understand the impact of media on their sexual behavior. In talking with thousands of teenagers nationwide, the designers of the curriculum found that most young people are largely unaware of how the media affect their attitudes and their behavior when it comes to sex.
Jack Samad is producer of "Sex & Young America" and senior vice president of Internet Safety and Strategic Partnerships. He says the RAND study "flies in the face" of those who claim what people watch does not affect their behavior.
Samad believes the study should not only raise awareness for parents and teens, but should also highlight the need for greater media responsibility. "While parents certainly need to be willing to be the bad guys and monitor their kids' TV viewing," he says, "this also should be a loud wake-up call for the broadcast and cable industries to offer programming that won't send kids the message that sex with anybody at any time is free of consequences."
Rick Schatz, president and CEO of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, agrees that the media has not done enough to educate young people about these life-damaging and often potentially life-threatening consequences. Early sexual activity on the part of teenagers, he points out, can lead to such problems as "sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies -- not to mention unseen emotional damage."
Schatz encourages mothers and fathers to help their children think critically about what they watch on TV. By being involved and proactive, he notes that "parents can actually play an important role in helping prevent their kids from making some bad choices."
The survey results, as published in Pediatrics, are available online at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/114/3/e280.
© 2004 Agapen Press.