|Sex on Television
Watching Sex on Television Predicts Adolescent Initiation of Sexual Behavior
L. Collins, PhD, Marc N. Elliott, PhD, Sandra H. Berry, MA, David E.
Kanouse, PhD, Dale Kunkel, PhD, Sarah B. Hunter, PhD and Angela Miu, MS
sexual initiation is an important social and health issue. A recent
survey suggested that most sexually experienced teens wish they had
waited longer to have intercourse; other data indicate that unplanned
pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are more common among
those who begin sexual activity earlier. The American Academy of
Pediatrics has suggested that portrayals of sex on entertainment
television (TV) may contribute to precocious adolescent sex.
Approximately two-thirds of TV programs contain sexual content.
However, empirical data examining the relationships between exposure to
sex on TV and adolescent sexual behaviors are rare and inadequate for
addressing the issue of causal effects.
Design and Participants
conducted a national longitudinal survey of 1792 adolescents, 12 to 17
years of age. In baseline and 1-year follow-up interviews, participants
reported their TV viewing habits and sexual experience and responded to
measures of more than a dozen factors known to be associated with
adolescent sexual initiation. TV viewing data were combined with the
results of a scientific analysis of TV sexual content to derive
measures of exposure to sexual content, depictions of sexual risks or
safety, and depictions of sexual behavior (versus talk about sex but no
Initiation of intercourse and advancement in noncoital sexual activity level, during a 1-year period.
regression analysis indicated that adolescents who viewed more sexual
content at baseline were more likely to initiate intercourse and
progress to more advanced noncoital sexual activities during the
subsequent year, controlling for respondent characteristics that might
otherwise explain these relationships. The size of the adjusted
intercourse effect was such that youths in the 90th percentile of TV
sex viewing had a predicted probability of intercourse initiation that
was approximately double that of youths in the 10th percentile, for all
ages studied. Exposure to TV that included only talk about sex was
associated with the same risks as exposure to TV that depicted sexual
behavior. African American youths who watched more depictions of sexual
risks or safety were less likely to initiate intercourse in the
sex on TV 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 possible negative consequences of sexual activity
could appreciably delay the initiation of coital and noncoital
activities. Alternatively, parents may be able to reduce the effects of
sexual content by watching TV with their teenaged children and
discussing their own beliefs about sex and the behaviors portrayed.
Pediatricians should encourage these family discussions.
Read the full study