- (HealthDayNews) -- Teenagers who view sexual content
on television, even if it only involves characters talking about sex, are
twice as likely to start having intercourse in the ensuing year compared
with peers who do not watch such content.
- Sexual content on TV was also more likely to hasten adolescents'
movement from one "base" to another, in other words, from kissing
to breast fondling to genital touching and on to oral sex, new research
- "Regardless of which level kids were at the beginning
of this study, watching more sex on TV was associated with a much higher
probability of moving up along the continuum," said Rebecca Collins,
senior author of the study, which appears in the September issue of Pediatrics.
- "The effect was strongest for kids moving into the
genital category [known in earlier generations as "heavy petting"].
They were about twice as likely to make that leap if they watched a lot
of sex on TV, compared to their peers. The effect was weakest for kids
moving in the very first stage," added Collins, a senior behavioral
scientist at the Rand Corp. The only effect that was stronger was for those
who engaged in actual intercourse, Collins added.
- She said she was surprised by the magnitude of the effect.
"Just making small reductions to what kids are exposed to could make
a significant difference in how quickly they develop sexually," she
- According to the journal report, 46 percent of all high
school students in the United States have had sexual intercourse. For every
four sexually active teenagers, one case of a sexually transmitted disease
(STD) is diagnosed. The rate of teen pregnancy in the United States is
among the highest for all industrial countries. Both unplanned pregnancies
and STDs are more common among individuals who start sexual activity earlier.
The author also stated that most sexually active teens say they wish they
had waited longer to have sex.
- And while about two-thirds of programs currently on television
contain sexual content, from talking to doing, there is little research
on the subject.
- Collins and her colleagues surveyed 1,792 adolescents
aged 12 to 17 from across the nation about their TV viewing habits and
sexual experience. The participants were surveyed twice, about one year
- While factors such as age, having older friends, getting
lower grades and rule-breaking behavior were all associated with initiating
sexual intercourse, television had the strongest effect.
- Adolescents who watched the most sexual content-oriented
TV at the beginning of the study were more likely to initiate intercourse
during the following year. They were also more likely to advance in their
"making out" stages.
- However, the researchers also found that black youths
who watched more depictions of sexual risks or safety measures were less
likely to initiate sexual intercourse in the next year.
- A child behavioral expert viewed the results of the study
as an opportunity for what she termed a "teachable moment."
- "For parents, this isn't necessarily a negative
message, because there is other research showing that programs with sexual
content provide good opportunities for parents to initiate conversations
with children about these topics," said Suzanne Ryan, a research associate
with Child Trends in Washington, D.C.
- "This is an important study because it fills a very
important hole in what we know," added Bill Albert, spokesman for
the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in Washington, D.C.
- The problem could be attacked from a number of different
directions, including getting kids to watch less TV and persuading the
TV industry to show less sex, or at least to show the potential consequences
- "If the media is a powerful force in shaping the
social script for adolescents, it is also true that the media can be a
force for good," Albert said. "I think you are seeing some major
media outlets stepping up to the plate and addressing the sexual issue
in a more responsible way."
- "When we did a survey last year, it was very clear
that a huge percentage of teens and adults say that they wish the media
showed more or talked more about the consequences of sex, so there is a
great support for these sorts of responsible messages," he added.
- More information
- For more on kids and TV, visit the American Academy of
Pediatrics (www.medem.com ).
- SOURCES: Rebecca Collins, Ph.D., senior behavioral scientist,
Rand Corp., Santa Monica, Calif.; Bill Albert, spokesman, National Campaign
to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Washington, D.C.; Suzanne Ryan, Ph.D., research
associate, Child Trends, Washington, D.C.; September 2004 Pediatrics
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