TV Sexual Scenes Nearly Double Since 1998, Rate of Safer Sex References Levels Off, Kaiser Family Foundation Study Says
About 70% of all television shows contain some sexual content, and the number of scenes containing such content has increased 96% since 1998, while the rate of references to safer sex issues is down slightly from 2002, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report released on Wednesday, the Boston Globe reports. For the report, titled "Sex on TV 4," Dale Kunkel, a communications professor at the University of Arizona, and colleagues at UA in consultation with researchers from the Kaiser Family Foundation analyzed 1,154 shows from the 2004-2005 television season (Ryan, Boston Globe, 11/10). Researchers focused on the programming of 10 networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, HBO, USA Network, WB, Lifetime and TNT (O'Crowley, Newark Star-Ledger, 11/10). The report examined the content of movies, sitcoms, dramas, soap operas, talk shows, news magazines and reality shows (Ho, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/10). Researchers found that while the number of sexual scenes sampled increased from 1,930 in 1998 to 3,780 in 2005, the number of shows in which sexual intercourse is either "depicted or strongly implied" decreased from 14% in 2002 to 11% in 2005. About 70% of all shows included some sexual content, with these shows showing an average of five sexual scenes per hour, compared with 64% of shows with 4.4 scenes per hour in 2002 and 56% of shows with 3.2 scenes per hour in 1998 (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 11/9). Of the shows that referenced sexual content, 14% referenced sexual "risks or responsibilities," up from 9% in 1998, the Houston Chronicle reports (Finan/Schulte, Houston Chronicle, 11/10).
"Given how high the stakes are, the messages TV sends teens about sex are important," Vicky Rideout, vice president and director of the Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health at the Kaiser Family Foundation and director of the study, said. She added, "Television has the power to bring issues of sexual risk and responsibility to life in a way that no sex ed class or public health brochure really can" (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 11/9). Kunkel said, "Kids can get deluded into thinking that pregnancy, AIDS, or (sexually transmitted diseases) don't happen because they rarely happen on TV" (Boston Globe, 11/10). Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who gave a keynote speech at a forum about the report on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., said the TV networks are ignoring concerns of parents "at their own peril." He added that if the industry "fails to act -- if it fails to give parents advanced controls and new choices -- Congress will." President and CEO of Fox Networks Group Tony Vinciquerra, who participated in the panel discussion about the report, said network executives consider parental concerns "every minute of every day about what goes on television" when debating what to air. Vinciquerra added that parents have controls on cable and satellite to block programs and can use V-chip technology to identify network programs containing sex, violence or crude language (Herrmann, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/10). Although many legislators are concerned with sex on TV contributing to teen pregnancy, Robert Thompson, founder of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, said that teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. increased before sex on TV proliferated, according to the Los Angeles Times (Shiver, Los Angeles Times, 11/10). The teenage birth rate has been declining since 1991, according to the National Center for Health Statics' final report on 2003 birth data (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 9/12).