Monday, November 03, 2008

Sex on TV and Teenage Pregnancy

There appears to be a link.
Teenagers who watch a lot of television featuring flirting, necking, discussion of sex and sex scenes are much more likely than their peers to get pregnant or get a partner pregnant, according to the first study to directly link steamy programming to teen pregnancy.

The study, which tracked more than 700 12-to-17-year-olds for three years, found that those who viewed the most sexual content on TV were about twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy as those who saw the least.

"Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy," said lead researcher Anita Chandra. "We found a strong association." The study is being published today in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

There is rising concern about teen pregnancy rates, which after decades of decline may have started inching up again, fueling an intense debate about what factors are to blame. Although TV viewing is unlikely to entirely explain the possible uptick in teen pregnancies, Chandra and others said, the study provides the first direct evidence that it could be playing a significant role.

"Sexual content on television has doubled in the last few years, especially during the period of our research," said Chandra, a researcher at the nonpartisan Rand Corp.
Is there a link--probably. But let's be careful, it is not likely to be causal link (I haven't read the entire study yet).

I find it very troubling as a parent that the incidences of sexual behavior is on the rise in programming aimed a teenagers.

A quick person story. My wife and my mother-in-law took my two young daughters to see High School Musical 3 at teh local theaters. My wife said that my mother-in-law that it was odd that the were was almost no hint of the hormones that would raging between the two teenage lead characters or their peers dealing with the high school prom or even a scene taking place in a treehouse (yes a treehouse). While I can see it, I have to say that I appreciate Disney going to great lengths to present a healthy teenage romance that does not depend on overt sexual behavior. The most we see is hugging and very little kissing. And there is nothing wrong with that kind of depiction.

Now, as for this link between TV sex and teenage pregnancy, I will admit that link probably exists, but there are also huge other factors involved.

1). I can almost say with certainty that today's teenagers have their own TV and their own computer in their room with cable service, meaning they can watch such shows in the privacy of their own rooms--no parental controls.

2). There is very little parental oversight on what these kids are watching and certainly no discussions of what is seen on TV.

3). There is almost certainly no discussion as to the importance and impact of some of the choices that TV characters make.

I don't completely blame TV for the state of affairs, they are in a market driven world and the market wants these kinds of depictions. However, to my limited knowledge (I spend a lot of time watching soccer) there is probably no discussions of the downside of sex, i.e. the potential for pregnancy, STDs, or even the psychological/emotional damage of engaging in sex too early, too often or too indiscriminantly.

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