Exposure to high levels of sexual content on TV has been linked to a greater likelihood of pregnancy in teens. The findings, published in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics, show "a compelling link", says lead author Anita Chandra.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one in every three girls gets pregnant before the age of 20. Anita Chandra states that sexual content on TV is now pervasive, with popular sitcoms exposing the viewer to some of the highest levels. The study included sexual dialogue as sexual content.
Between 2001 to 2004, over two thousand teens were involved in a telephone survey focusing on TV viewing habits, as well as sexual attitudes, knowledge and behavior. In order to protect the privacy of respondents, questions were frequently constructed so that only a simple ‘yes or no' was required. Views were canvassed about 23 programs ranging from animations, live-action programs, sitcoms and dramas.
When the results of the survey were analyzed it was found that teens who were exposed to the highest levels of sexual content were twice as likely to have been involved in a pregnancy compared with those who watched the least (90th percentile and 10th percentile respectively).
Commenting on the findings, Dr. Yolanda Wimberly, an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the Morehouse School of Medicine said, " you cannot expect to have a sexually saturated society with all of your media outlets, but then, at the same time, be surprised when this influences people and their behavior."
David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, is cited by CNN.com as apportioning blame for the high pregnancy levels to parents and schools. Walsh cites data that points to fewer than 20 percent of American teens feeling they can talk to a trusted adult about sex. "For a kid who no one's talking to about sex, and then watches sitcoms on TV where sex is presented as this is what cool people do, the outcome is obvious."
Also reported on the Todayshow.com, Anita Chandra states that TV is likely to be no more significant than some other family or neighborhood factors that are associated with teen pregnancy. However, even when these factors are accounted for the effect of watching high levels of sexual content on TV is marked.
The study was paid for by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and undertaken by the non-profit RAND research organization.
Published On: November 07, 2008