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More Sex Content on Teens' TV Shows

Survey Shows Increase in Sexual References on Shows Watched by Teenagers
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 9, 2005 -- Seven in 10 television shows watched by teens now contain some form of sexual content, while each show contains more sexual references than they did a few years ago, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The study found that American teens, who spend an average of three hours per day watching television, now see an average of six sexual scenes per hour when watching in prime time. That's significantly more than the 4.4 scenes per hour teens saw during the same study in 2002.

In all, the number of sexual scenes contained in about 1,000 shows sampled nearly doubled from 1,930 in 1998 to 3,780 in 2005, the study found. The study included shows on cable and broadcast television.

Impact on Teens

According to researchers, the study clearly shows that American children and teens are exposed to an increasing level and range of sexual TV content. But the impact of that exposure is still largely unknown.

One federally funded study pegged repeated media depictions of sex as an important determinant of how early teens start having sex. But the increase in sexual TV content comes at a time when rates of teen pregnancy and sexual activity are down from the last decade.

Still, 750,000 teenagers become pregnant each year, while an estimated 4 million contract sexually transmitted diseases.

"We are not saying that TV is to blame for this problem. But research is saying TV has an impact and has an opportunity to help," said Victoria Rideout, who co-authored the study for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Reaction on Capitol Hill

The study sampled a wide range of sexual content, including conversational references to sex, implied sex acts, and depicted sexual intercourse.

Researchers found that just 14% of shows depicting sex also contained references to risk or to safe sex. That's down from 15% in 2002 but was still a significant rise from 9% in 1998, according to the study.

Increasing exposure to TV sex and violence has lead to threats from Congress to more strictly regulate TV networks. Those threats often run up against concerns that they might infringe on the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. But in response, many networks have submitted to voluntary ratings systems while promoting the use of parental control technologies like the V-chip.

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