It's reasonable to wonder if teens who see lots of sexually
suggestive TV are more likely to initiate intercourse or engage in
other sexual activities earlier than their peers who don't tune
in to such programs.
Researchers are now reporting, for the first time, that teens
who see lots of lewd TV are actually
as likely to become (or get someone) pregnant before age 20 than
those who view very little sexually explicit content on the
Looking at a national phone survey and follow-ups of more than
2,000 12- to 17-year-olds over a 3-year period, researchers were
able to pinpoint that the teens who'd viewed "high levels
of televised sexual content" were far more likely to become
The survey focused on all kinds of popular teen programs, from
sitcoms to reality shows, and on everything from passionate kissing
to discussions about sexual desires, from implied intercourse to
actual depictions of sex.
What This Means to You
Although the results of this study don't prove cause and
effect, putting limits on teens' exposure to sex in the media
might help to reduce the risk of teen pregnancy. But it's also
helpful, the study's authors say, to give kids information
about the potential downsides of sexual activity when they do view
sexual scenarios on TV.
Here's some of the facts that many popular programs
bring up to their teen viewers:
- Nearly 1 million teenage girls in the United States have
babies every year. That's an astonishing 20% of the young
girls who are sexually active and more than any other
industrialized nation in the world. In 2006, the number of births
to teen moms (ages 15 to 19) rose for the first time in nearly 15
years. And having a baby can change
for a teen - as the study points out, "Young mothers are
more likely than others to drop out of school, to require public
assistance, and to live in poverty."
- A staggering 1 in 4 (or an estimated 3.2 million) teenage
girls in the United States has a sexually transmitted disease
- You can't get pregnant if you have oral sex, but you
get an STD like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, warts, herpes, or
- Some STDs (like genital warts and herpes) also can spread
through intimate skin-to-skin contact
actual vaginal or anal penetration.
- Each year about 6.2 million people contract the human
papillomavirus (HPV). The leading cause of cervical cancer and
genital warts, HPV affects more than half of sexually active
people at some point in their lives.
- An estimated 42 million people worldwide are living with AIDS
or HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS). And
more than 3 million die from AIDS-related illnesses every
- A latex condom is an absolute
for anyone who decides to have vaginal, anal,
oral sex. Still, only complete and consistent abstinence can
totally prevent pregnancy and protect against all STDs.
To help open your teens' eyes to what having sex really
means, and to help keep TV viewing in your household in the most
positive context possible:
- Preview programs
your kids watch them. Look for reruns of shows or check out the
programs' promotions online to find out if your kids should
be viewing them
- Watch programs
your kids - at least the first few minutes to assess the tone and
appropriateness, then check in throughout the show. Offer
perspective and guidance about what they're seeing and start
a dialogue about the consequences (like pregnancy and STDs) that
could come with being sexually active. Give the facts, but also
give them a sense of where you stand, without preaching. Explain
what your values are and why.
- Lay down some ground rules about what kinds of programs you
approve of and which ones you don't.
- Try a weekday ban (especially since some of the racier shows
air on weeknights). Record shows or save TV and videos for
weekends so you'll have more family time for meals, games,
physical activity, reading, and just spending quality time
- Keep TVs out of kids' bedrooms. Having a TV in their
rooms can affect kids academically, socially, and
- Turn off the TV during meals.
- Set a good example - limit your own screen time.
Granted, as kids get older and crave more and more independence,
it becomes much harder to have a say in what they do or don't
see (on TV and online, where they can also view a lot of their
favorite shows as well as plenty of other unsavory content). But,
as a parent, you still retain the right to have some control over
(and offer insights about) what your kids are viewing - even if
"everyone else is watching it."
Still, try to have faith in your kids' abilities to make
good decisions and be there to help them think through the tough
ones. Rather than telling teens what they should do, offer
suggestions and help them consider the outcomes and consequences -
what will happen, how they might feel, how others might feel or
react, and how it could change their lives now and in the
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: November 2008
Source: "Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen
Pregnancy? Findings from a National Longitudinal Survey of
, November 2008.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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