Sexy TV: A Link to Teen Pregnancy?

Study Shows Teens Exposed to Sexual Content on TV Have Greater Risk of Pregnancy

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 31, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 3, 2008 -- Parents, here's one more reason to turn off the television.

Teenage girls who are exposed to a lot of sexual content on television are more likely to get pregnant, and teenage boys are more likely to father a child, a study shows.

The study, published in Pediatrics, is based on interviews with teens over a three-year period.

The teens were 12 to 17 years old at the start of the study in the spring of 2001. Nearly 1,500 teens participated in three telephone interviews during the three-year study period and were asked how much television they watched in general and how often they watched specific shows, which were selected by researchers because of popularity with teens and high amounts of sexual content.

Teens were also asked whether they had been pregnant or gotten a girl pregnant and other questions about their lives. Questions were asked so that teens could respond with simple answers, such as yes or no, so that a parent listening would not be able to infer any meaning from the answers.

The results show that frequent television viewing is a predictor for teen pregnancy, even after researchers made adjustments for other risk factors of teen pregnancy.

Teens who watched the most sexual content (90th percentile) on TV were twice as likely to experience a pregnancy in the three-year period as those who watched the least (10th percentile).

"Our study clearly suggests that television plays a role in shaping adolescent reproductive health outcomes," the researchers write. "Given the high rates of teen pregnancy in the United States, our findings argue for continued evaluation of television's role in teen pregnancy and for prevention strategies that factor in the role of portrayals of sexuality on television and in other media."