- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

More than three-quarters of prime-time TV shows contain some sexual content, significantly more than previous years, a study shows.

However, most of the racy scenes involve talk, not action, and the portion of shows in which sex is a “strong” element has declined, said researchers with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on reproductive and sexual health issues.

The messages television sends teens about sex, especially its risks and responsibilities, are important, said Vicky Rideout, the Kaiser foundation vice president who oversaw the study.

“Television has the power to bring issues of sexual risk and responsibility to life in a way that no sex-ed class or public health brochure really can,” she said.

Unlike media violence, whose ill effects on youths have been well-documented, the impact of pervasive sexual messages on youths has not been studied in depth.

In 2004, a Rand Corp. study found that high exposure to TV sex may hasten sexual debut among teens. It also found that teens were just as affected by TV “sex talk” as sex scenes, and that TV shows could educate teens about the risks of sexual activity.

But a July study in the Journal of Pediatrics found that of 2,522 studies on youths and the media, only 13 looked at sexual issues. Such a dearth of knowledge is worrisome because teens may accept TV sex behaviors as “normative, attractive and without risk,” Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital in Boston, told the journal.

Calls have been issued for studies on children and sex in the media, but researchers say “the money is just not there,” Dr. Michael Brody, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ TV and media committee, said yesterday.

For its “Sex on TV 4” study, Kaiser researchers reviewed 1,154 programs for the 2004-05 season on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, WB, PBS, Lifetime, TNT, USA Network and HBO.

They found that 70 percent of all shows and 77 percent of prime-time shows had sexual content, ranging from sexual conversations to sexual intercourse. The number of sexual scenes was 3,783, almost double the 1,930 seen in the first Kaiser study in 1998.

Two-thirds of the 2005 shows included sexual talk and 35 percent involved sexual behavior. The shows also averaged five sexual scenes an hour, up from 4.4 hourly sexual scenes in 2002 and 3.2 hourly sexual scenes in 1998.

However, the portion of TV shows in which sex was a “strong” element fell, to 11 percent in 2005 from 14 percent in 2002.

The Kaiser study found references to “safer sex” issues, such as contraception or delaying sex, in about 11 percent of shows. Hollywood writers have incorporated more health messages into their programming, “but the potential is there to do much more,” Miss Rideout said.

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