“The worst thing we can do in the media is dissociate good sex from good relationships,” declares Michael Medved, a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and a member of the advisory board of the conservative Parents Television Council. The PTC released a study last week complaining that “broadcast networks depict sex in the context of marriage as either nonexistent or burdensome.”
Yes, this is the same PTC heretofore known best for its complaints to the Federal Communications Commission over indecency on broadcast television.
The nonprofit group, headquartered in Los Angeles and Alexandria, has campaigned against portions of, among other shows, “Without a Trace,” “Nip/Tuck,” “NYPD Blue,” “Big Brother” and, perhaps most famously, Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime show. One television executive described the group as “the primary driver … in terms of indecency as an issue now.”
So it might come as a small shock to learn that the PTC is demanding better sex on TV — as long as it’s marital sex, of course.
The PTC’s report, “Happily Never After: How Hollywood Favors Adultery and Promiscuity Over Marital Intimacy on Prime Time Broadcast Television,” examined all scripted prime-time programs on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and the CW in a four-week period last season. It found that “verbal references to nonmarital sex outnumbered references to sex in the context of marriage by nearly 3 to 1, and scenes depicting or implying sex between non-married partners outnumbered similar scenes between married couples by a ratio of nearly 4 to 1.”
Melissa Henson, PTC’s director of communications and public education, wrote the study and summarizes it succinctly: “Marital intimacy is almost never depicted on TV these days, and if it is, it’s almost always painted in a negative light. By contrast, extramarital sexual relations are almost always portrayed positively.”
So what TV needs is … more sex between married couples?
“It’s not necessarily that we’re clamoring for more sexual content on TV,” Ms. Henson is quick to clarify, “but more positive portrayals of marriage would be a positive change. The cliched joke on TV is husbands complaining their wives are frigid or have no interest in sex.”
She would welcome tasteful treatments of marital intimacy, “if it’s done in an appropriate way, handled responsibly and not graphic in its depiction.”
Mr. Medved doesn’t hesitate to voice his support for more depictions of marital intimacy on TV. Not what you might expect from a man whose family doesn’t even own a television. It almost certainly wouldn’t have been the conservative response almost 50 years ago, when married couples like Rob and Laura Petrie were obliged to sleep in twin beds on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
“I think we’ve changed. One of the things that changed is in the ‘60s and ‘70s, you had Masters and Johnson. The whole attention toward sexuality is part of health now,” Mr. Medved says. “They have Viagra ads on TV, for goodness sake.”
Mr. Medved, whose radio show just got picked up in New York, points out that television portrayals of marital sex don’t match up to reality.
“Every sex survey that’s ever been done shows that sex is not only vastly more frequent for married people than for unmarried people but that it’s also vastly better,” he says.
That’s not what prime-time programming indicates, however. “The only way to get rid of that lie is to bury it in an open field with a stake in its heart,” Mr. Medved says. “The divorce rate has gone down every year since 1982.”
Social liberals often complain that conservatives are simply against people having fun, but it would be tough to make that stereotype stick against Mr. Medved. He doesn’t shy away from getting a little graphic himself, as long as it’s in the cause of pointing out how exciting marriage can be.
According to one federally funded sex study, “the one group in the population that’s most likely — and by far — to be multi-orgasmic, is married, evangelical Christian women with children,” Mr. Medved notes.
Both PTC critics think more and better portrayals of marital intimacy are needed on-screen because they think that could have a positive effect on the people watching them.
Mr. Medved says one thing that scares young people away from marriage is the idea that there’s a high divorce rate. The other is “the old idea that once you get married, all the excitement goes away.”
Ms. Henson agrees. “If people are constantly getting the idea from the media they’re consuming that marriage is a soul-killing hell on earth and they have to get their kicks in before they get married, I think it’s very difficult to overcome those biases,” she says.
She looks back to the good old days — not the 1950s and 1960s, when networks adhered to a strict voluntary code of conduct — but more recent history.
“You really no longer have the iconic TV families that you used to have, like the Huxtables on the old ‘Cosby Show,’” she points out. “It often showed them in bed together at the end of a long day, talking about family issues. There was no question they were attracted to each other, but there was no need to be graphic or explicit about it.”