More Sex Scenes But More Mention of ‘Safer Sex’ on Television Shows, Study Says
Although more television shows are including sexual content, such programs are also including more mentions of "safer sex," abstinence and possible consequences of intercourse, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation biennial report, titled "Sex on TV: Content and Context," released yesterday, the Washington Post reports (Sessions Stepp, Washington Post, 2/5). Dale Kunkel, a communications professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara, and a team of researchers, including foundation researchers, analyzed more than 1,100 shows from the 2001-2002 television season. Researchers focused on the programming of 10 networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS and HBO, and examined the content of movies, sitcoms, dramas, soap operas, talk shows, news magazines and reality shows, the Boston Globe reports. The shows were analyzed for sexual content, including discussion of sex, kissing, touching, or "actual depictions" of intercourse (Ryann, Boston Globe, 2/5). Researchers then analyzed scenes for any mention of the risks or responsibilities of sexual behavior, including mentions of contraception, condoms, safer sex, emotional consequences of sex, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, abortion, abstinence or the "possibility of waiting to have sex" (KFF executive summary, 2/4). Researchers found that 64% of all shows included some sexual content, and 14% of television shows depicted or implied sexual intercourse, compared to 10% two years ago. Of shows featuring "any kind" of sexual situation -- including discussion about sex, kissing or "intimate touching" -- 15% included mention of safer sex, up from 10% two years ago. Among the top 20 shows among teens, 83% included some sexual content, including 20% with sexual intercourse. Among shows with sexual content involving teenagers, 34% included a safer sex reference, almost twice the rate of four years ago, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Elber, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/5).
Vicki Rideout, the vice president of Kaiser Family Foundation who oversaw the study, said, "Lots of writers and producers are hesitant about including this kind of [safer-sex] content. ... Then, when one or two of them try it and it works out well, it is funny or it heightens the drama, it feels natural and it succeeds in the ratings, they realize they can do good and entertain at the same time" (Schwartz, USA Today, 2/5). Joe Sachs, a supervising producer on NBC's drama "ER," said, "We never sit around the room and say, 'What can we do this week that will serve the public health of the nation?'" But "we know that we have a responsibility, so we try to portray things accurately," Sachs added (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/5). According to the New York Times, there is a "growing chorus" of health professionals, parents' groups and some lawmakers calling for limits on sexual content in television programming. Jane Brown, professor of communications at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who is studying how sex on television affects the behavior of seventh and eighth graders, said, "I think that Kaiser is putting a positive spin on it; safe-sex messages are still on a minority of shows our kids watch," adding, "The most important message our kids are getting from television is that sex is and should be a very important part of our lives. And that message is being sent too soon for most children" (Stanley, New York Times, 2/5). Rideout said, "The kinds of messages young people receive about sex are really important" (Lowry, Los Angeles Times, 2/5). She added that "[f]rom a public-health perspective, it's encouraging to see this trend toward greater attention to safer-sex issues on TV. This generation is immersed in the media, so when Hollywood makes safer sex sexier -- whether its abstinence or protection -- that's all to the good" (Boston Globe, 2/5).