Watching TV To Learn About Sex

Katie Young
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Wednesday - November 12, 2008

Turn on the TV and you’re bound to see some reference to sex in commercials, sit-coms, reality shows - you name it and it’s there in suggestive language, provocative situations and more.

What’s a parent to do?

I never watched things like MTV when I was growing up, mostly because my parents never got cable TV until I was well into my 20s. The first time I actually saw a music video I was in college. Even now, when I turn on the television, I’m shocked at some of the things they’re allowed to show on basic cable stations. The music videos are the worst, if you ask me - a bunch of half-naked, gyrating women fawning all over some rap star is not my idea of music with a good message.

But most people I know are unfazed by such programming. It’s just “normal” TV to many. They’ve seen the images so many times that it becomes “no big deal” on the surface, but who knows how those images have shaped the person’s views about sex.

More than a few people have raised concerns about the media’s powerful effect on children who may be “growing up too fast.” Seven-year-olds mimicking the dance moves of a sexy Britney Spears video or preteens wearing revealing clothes are making some parents think twice about where to draw the line.

I say this because I can remember singing along to the words of a song by George Michael when I was in the sixth grade. I didn’t think anything of what I was singing, but I remember my mother was appalled and told me to never sing that song out loud again. Now I know why. A sixth-grader has no business repeating in song the words to a ballad about sex.


According to a recent Associated Press story, research suggests that pregnancy rates are actually much higher among teens who watch a lot of TV with sexual dialogue and behavior than among those who have tamer viewing tastes. The study, according to author Anita Chandra, is the first to link viewing habits with teen pregnancy. The article also states that previous research by some of the same scientists had already found that watching lots of sex on TV can influence teens to have sex at earlier ages.

Shows that highlight only the positive aspects of sexual behavior without the risks can lead teens to have unprotected sex before they’re ready to make responsible decisions, Chandra said.

According to the article, the study was released last Monday in the November issue of Pediatrics, involving 2,003 12- to 17-year-old girls and boys nationwide, who were questioned by telephone about their TV viewing habits. Participants were asked how often they watched any of more than 20 TV shows popular among teens or that were known to have lots of sexual content. Included were shows such as Sex and the City, Friends and That ‘70s Show.

A follow-up determined how many of the surveyed girls became pregnant during the three years since they were interviewed and how many of the boys had gotten a girl pregnant.

Arguably, the shows I did watch during my time in high school - shows such as Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place -fall in the same category with the sexually driven shows the teens of today are watching.

Of course, there are other factors involved in whether a teen chooses to have sex early or becomes pregnant, such as self-esteem, family values, lack of education and more, but the media certainly has an effect on a teenager’s outlook on life and sex.

We need to monitor more closely what our children are watching. We also need to talk to our kids about sex before they are teenagers, whether it be through sex education in school or by parents talking to their kids about it at home. If a child has no other source of education about sex, then it’s no wonder teens all over the nation are turning to the TV as their barometer of how to approach it.

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