Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sue Scheff: Teen Sex in the Web and Media

Sex in the Media

Source: Connect with Kids

“Every TV show now has like at least one character who is like a slut.”

– Katie Seewald, 14 years old

Parents have heard a thousand times that sex is all over the media. But is the sheer volume of sexual images harming our children? Or is it something else?

A recent movie, “A Guy Thing,” begins with a bachelor (played by Jason Lee) hurrying a woman (Julia Stiles) out of bed after a drunken one-night stand.

The scene is typical of how casual sex is portrayed on television and in the movies.

14-year-old Katie Seewald says, “Every TV show now has like at least one character who is like a slut.”

A study by the Rand Corporation finds that teens who watch shows with heavy sexual content are twice as likely to get pregnant or get someone pregnant compared to kids who don’t watch those shows. Still, while the study demonstrates a correlation between teenage sexual behavior and television content, it does not prove a cause. Are the higher pregnancy rates the result of TV viewing, or is it simply that kids who take sexual risks and end up pregnant are more likely to watch sexual content on TV? It is not clear.

Experts say one problem with television content is that sex seldom has consequences.

“If they see sex without negative consequences…they may think that having, or engaging in sex, may not have negative consequences,” explains Dr. Gina Wingood, Associate Professor at Emory University.

Bo Brewer, 17, agrees, “You never see abortion in movies or on t-v.”

So does 17-year-old Elizabeth Green, “They want everything to be in the heat of the moment, to flow, and having to stop to go put on a condom doesn’t really flow with the storyline.”

The experts’ advice?

Limit the amount of sexual content your kids are allowed to watch and talk with your children about the sexy scenes they see on TV.

Studies show children are much less likely to be influenced by what they see if they know their parents strongly disagree.

“Teens and young people do care what their parents think. And they do care what their parents’ feelings are,” says psychologist Betsy Gard. “And if a parent expresses very strong dislike of a program and explains their reasons, that’s going to have an impact on the teen.”

“And I think it’s kind of up to parents or some figure like that to say ‘well that’s not the way it is, that’s just the way that it is on that t-v show,” says 16-year-old Mary Cloud.

Tips for Parents

The American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested that portrayals of sex on entertainment television may contribute to precocious adolescent sex. Approximately two-thirds of television programs contain sexual content, and adolescents who viewed more sexual content were more likely to initiate intercourse and progress to more advanced non-coital sexual activities. Youths in the top 10th percentile of television sex viewing were twice as likely to have sex as those youths who were in the bottom 10th percentile of viewing.

Adolescence is a key period of sexual exploration and development. This is the time when teens begin to consider which sexual behaviors are enjoyable, moral and appropriate for their age group. Many teens become sexually active during this period; currently, 46 percent of high school students in the United States admit to having had sexual intercourse. Consider the following:

By ninth grade, 34 percent of teens have had sexual intercourse. By 12th grade, this figure increases to 60 percent.

On average, teens watch three hours of television every day.

Watching a program that talked about sex was associated with the same risks as exposure to a program that depicted sexual behavior.

Approximately one in seven television programs includes a portrayal of sexual intercourse.
Television programs with sexual content have an average of 4.4 scenes per hour containing sexually related material.

Youths who watched more depictions of sexual risks or safety were less likely to initiate intercourse.

Watching sex on television predicts and may hasten adolescent sexual initiation. Reducing the amount of sexual content in entertainment programming, reducing adolescent exposure to this content, or increasing references to and depictions of the possible negative consequences of sexual activity could delay when teens embark on sexual activities. A quarter of all sexually active teens will contract a sexually transmitted disease each year. According to 57 percent of adults and 72 percent of teens, the media has given "more attention" to teen pregnancy prevention in recent years.

Remember that as a parent you may be able to reduce the effects of sexual content in the media by watching television with your teenagers and discussing your own beliefs about sex and the behaviors being portrayed. Most parents say they have discussed sex with their teenagers, but far fewer teenagers say they had such talks with their parents. Sixty-nine percent of teens report that it would be "much easier" to postpone sexual activity if they could have "more open, honest conversations" about sex with their parents. In addition:

About 60 percent of teens have a television in their bedroom. The only way to keep parental control of television viewing is to not let your teen have a television in the bedroom.
Unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are more common among those who begin sexual activity earlier.

Two-thirds of sexually experienced teens wish they had waited longer to have intercourse.
Seventy-nine percent of teenage virgins are not embarrassed to tell others they have not had sex.

Youngsters who receive little parental supervision may have more time and freedom to watch sexually based programming and more opportunities to engage in sexual activity.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
Medical News Today
Rand Corporation
Talk With Your Kids
USA Today