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More Sex Content on Teens' TV Shows

Survey Shows Increase in Sexual References on Shows Watched by Teenagers

Networks Under Scrutiny

Nearly seven in 10 parents in a 2004 Kaiser Foundation survey said that they were "very concerned" about the amount of sexual content their kids see on TV.

Fox president and CEO Tony Vinciquerra said that his network uses voluntary content ratings and has spent "tens of millions of dollars" promoting them to parents.

Nearly all cable and satellite television services come with channel or program lock-out functions, Vinciquerra said. "It's a five-minute exercise. It's not difficult and parents do need to take that responsibility."

Rebecca Collins, PhD, a RAND corporation researcher who conducted the separate federal study completed in 2004, said the amount of sexual content teens view was found to be one of the most important influences on how early they start having sex.

Single-parent homes and spending time with mostly older friends were stronger influences, but time spent watching sexual content was third, she said.

"It's hard to quantify exactly what the effect of TV is," Collins said. Still, "12-year-olds who watched a lot of sex looked like 14-to-15-year-olds" in their sexual behavior.

Complex Influences

Others cautioned that television is just one aspect of youth culture that includes family, peers, school, and religion, as well as the Internet, movies, and music.

"Media absolutely is important, but let's not pretend it's the only thing," said Sarah Brown, president of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

Sen. Barak Obama (D-Ill.) told reporters and others that Congress could still consider pushing legislation that tightens regulations on broadcasters.

"Let's start by turning off our TV sets once in a while," he said.

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