Strong Sexual Content on TV Harms Children
By: Congressman Lamar Smith
A study released last week by the RAND Corporation confirms what parents already know: television programs that include strong sexual content cause teenagers to engage in sexual activity.
The study found that sexual content appeared in 64% of all programs in the 2001-2002 season. Sex is a conversation topic in 61% of programs. And portrayals of sexual behavior appear in 32%. Most disturbing, one in 7 programs include a re-creation of sexual intercourse.
Children have been influenced by how their television idols behave since the 1950's. The reasoning: If their favorite - and famous - television characters talk about and engage in sexual activities, why shouldn't they?
According to the study:
* Watching television shows with sexual content increases the age at which first sexual activity occurs.
Analysts surveyed a national sample of households that contain an adolescent from 12 to 17 years old. A total of 1,700 were asked about their sexual experiences and also their television viewing habits. They were surveyed one year later.
Youths who viewed the greatest amounts of sexual content were two times more likely than those who viewed the smallest amount to initiate sexual intercourse during the following year. In effect, youths who watched the most sexual content "acted older": a 12-year-old at the highest levels of exposure to sex on television behaved like a 14- or 15-year-old with the lowest exposure.
* Sexual talk on television has the same effect on teens as depictions of sex.
This is not surprising. Previous research concludes that what television characters say can entice a television viewer to act out the language used. It makes little difference whether a television show presents people talking about whether they have sex or shows them engaged in the act. Both affect perceived norms regarding sex, and thus sexual behavior.
* Early sexual activity can be linked to harmful personal and professional behavior later in life.
Parents care about this because, as other studies have shown, sexually active teens later regret their decisions. As they mature, teens realize they were not prepared for the consequences of their behavior.
Those consequences may include unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease. Such consequences, in addition to uprooting the lives and development of the affected teenagers, make early teenage sexual initiation a public health issue.
So what can parents do to shield their children from the overwhelming amount of sexual activity on television? Television is a commercial median. Sex attracts viewers. Viewers get the programming they deserve: they vote with their remote controls. So the first thing to do is vote with your remote: choose the programs that do not interfere with your right to raise your children in a wholesome and nurturing environment.
Second, the average child, according to the study, watches three hours of TV daily. Do children need to watch so much television?
A copy of the report can be obtained online for free at www.pediatrics.org