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Study links teen sex to content on TV

September 08, 2004|From Associated Press

CHICAGO — Children who watched a lot of TV with sexual content were about twice as likely to start having intercourse during the subsequent year as those with little exposure to televised sex, researchers found.

High exposure to TV sex among those ages 12 to 17 also was linked with a lower but still substantially increased risk of starting non-intercourse behavior, including passionate kissing and oral sex, the researchers found. Even shows that refer to sex but don't depict it had the effect, they found.

"Exposure to TV that included only talk about sex was associated with the same risks as exposure to TV that depicted sexual behavior," said Rand Corp. behavioral scientist Rebecca Collins and colleagues. Their study appears in Pediatrics, released Tuesday.

From innuendoes to depictions of intercourse, sex is pervasive on TV, present in about two-thirds of all shows other than news and sports, and teens watch an average of three hours of television daily, previous research has shown.

TV thus "may create the illusion that sex is more central to daily life than it truly is and may promote sexual initiation as a result," the researchers said.

TV sex rarely deals with negative aspects most teens aren't prepared to deal with, including unwanted pregnancy and AIDS, Collins said.

That "sends kids the message that everybody's having sex and nobody's thinking about responsibility and nothing bad ever happens," she said.

The results were based on nationwide telephone surveys of 1,792 adolescents queried in 2001 and in 2002. Parental consent for participation was obtained.

The researchers devised a list of 23 popular shows that on average featured abundant sexual content. Participants then were asked how often they watched those 23 shows. They also were asked whether they engaged in various sexual activities; results were compared from the two surveys.

The number of teens who reported having had intercourse climbed from about 18% to 36%. The number who'd had sexual experiences other than intercourse climbed from 62% to 75%.

Factors that increased the likelihood of having sex included being older, having older friends and getting poor grades. But even considering those factors, TV still remained a strong influence, the researchers said.

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