Survey Finds Half of TV Shows Refer to Sex, Few Responsibly

By Don Aucoin | Globe Staff | 02/10/99

As any regular television watcher knows, sex is not exactly taboo on TV.

But one subject seems to be largely off-limits, according to a major new study released yesterday: the ''risks and responsibilities'' of sexual activity.

A survey of 1,351 randomly selected shows by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that 56 percent of TV programs - and 67 percent of prime-time shows - contained sexual content in word or deed over the course of one week. Yet only one in 10 such shows mentioned contraception, safe sex, or the possibility of delaying sexual activity, the study found.

After narrowing their focus to only the 88 scenes in which sexual intercourse was either ''depicted or strongly implied,'' researchers discovered that not one program in the smaller sample ''made even a passing reference'' to safe sex.

With teenage pregnancies reaching 1 million per year and sexually transmitted diseases annually striking more than 3 million teenagers, the sexual messages sent by TV are a matter of growing significance, according to Vicky Rideout, director of the foundation's Program on the Entertainment Media and Public Health.

''Surveys indicate that TV is one of the top sources of information for young people about sex,'' Rideout said in an interview. ''Obviously, parents and sex-ed classes in schools are important, but TV is a part of the sexual socialization of young people. It shows how men and women relate to each other, and what the norms of sexual behavior are.''

Just in case anyone was still in doubt, the study makes clear just how preoccupied television has become with sex. Fully 85 percent of soap operas were found to contain sexual content; TV movies, 83 percent; talk shows, 78 percent; dramas, 58 percent; news magazines, 58 percent; sitcoms, 56 percent; reality shows, 23 percent.

However, the study defined TV sex broadly, counting everything from passionate kissing to flirting to ''intimate touching'' to sexual intercourse depicted or implied. Only 7 percent of programs fell into the latter category.

Nonetheless, in detailing the extent of sexual content on TV, the study sheds a statistical light on the turnabout in recent years from the repressive attitude toward sex that characterized television's early years.

''On `I Love Lucy' in the '50s, Lucy and Ricky didn't share the same bed, even though they were married,'' observed TV historian Steven D. Stark. ''Sex on television was fairly nonexistent until fairly recently. In the '80s, with `Hill Street Blues,' it really opened up.

''Now it's everywhere. It's even in the ads and promos all the time. There are no barriers anymore.''
But television's preoccupation with the subject does not extend to sexual precautions, the study found. In general, the subject of safe sex is treated in a grudging and perfunctory fashion. For instance, even when shows did make references to sexual ''risks and responsibilities,'' half the time they were ''minor or inconsequential.'' In addition, only 1 percent of the shows with sexual content made sexual risks and responsibilities a primary emphasis.

Researchers did find that on shows with sexual content involving teenage characters, the shows were twice as likely to make reference to safe sex or delaying sex. However, that still amounted only to fewer than one in every five shows, and Rideout noted that many shows popular among teenagers feature young adults, programs in which safe-sex messages were rare.

''Unprotected sex in this day and age? Where are they coming from, with AIDS a major life-and-death disease?'' remarked Peggy Charren, founder of Action for Children's Television.

But the foundation's study also encountered some criticism yesterday within hours after it was released. Privately, some network executives complained that such studies apply a quantitative measure to a qualitative issue, that simply counting the number of sexual remarks or acts does not convey the subject's treatment.

In addition, Robert J. Thompson, head of the Center for the Study of Popular Television, said it is unrealistic to expect sitcom repartee to include safe-sex messages, and objected to what he saw as attempts to ''mandate what television ought to be doing.''

''As uncomfortable as I am that every time I turn on a sitcom at 8 o'clock there's an erection joke, we also have to look at the potential positive role television may be playing in sexuality,'' said Thompson. ''Some of the shows are beginning to talk about sex in a sophisticated way. It can be done crudely or very well; `Ally McBeal' is doing it very well, Howard Stern may not be doing it very well.''

Rideout emphasized that the Kaiser foundation, a California-based, independent philanthropy that has recently begun including the entertainment industry in its studies on public health issues, is ''not approaching this from a moral or ideological point of view.''

''We do not see ourselves as sex police,'' she said. ''We're not blaming TV for teen pregnancy. We're saying that when one out of every two shows is communicating something about sex, it's a great opportunity for people in the television industry to play a positive role, to inform at the same time they're entertaining.

''And there's a lot of people in the television business who care very much about the impact they have and are trying to incorporate responsible messages into their shows,'' she added.

For example, Rideout praised the WB network's popular ''Dawson's Creek'' for depicting two teenagers ''talking about wanting to be prepared with condoms if they have sex.'' She also lauded the UPN network's ''Moesha'' and the WB's ''Felicity'' for incorporating discussions of safe sex.

Researchers also acknowledged that sex is more talked about than consummated on most shows, citing racy banter on ABC's ''Spin City'' and ''Dharma and Greg''; NBC's ''Friends,'' ''Veronica's Closet,'' and ''Working''; and the WB network's ''Buffy the Vampire Slayer.''

Nevertheless, Rideout said the consequences of sex should be ''part of the picture'' even when it's just talked about, because ''the way people talk about sex is communicating important information about it.''

Among the 88 shows that depicted or ''strongly implied'' intercourse without any discussion of safe sex, the study singled out a pair of daytime soap operas, CBS's ''The Young and the Restless'' and NBC's ''Sunset Beach,'' along with TV's top-rated show, NBC's ''ER,'' and one of its most talked about, Fox's ''Ally McBeal.'' The study also cited Fox's ''Party of Five'' and CBS's ''Chicago Hope'' as shows that have tried to convey safe-sex messages.

There are signs that some in the TV industry have grown uneasy with the medium's increasing preoccupation with sex. Scott Sassa, the new president of NBC Entertainment, recently told TV critics he has directed NBC writers and producers to cut down on the amount of gratituitous sexual banter and situations.

CBS spokesman Chris Ender, while saying the network would reserve comment on the study until officials have a chance to read it, said that ''overall, we believe we're very responsible in our portrayals of sex.'' Spokes men for NBC, ABC, Fox, and the WB said network officials would have no comment until they see the study.

This story ran on page A17 of the Boston Globe on 02/10/99.
Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.


It's Not That Hard to Figure Out

Every time there's a horrible crime committed in America, the manure-spreading newsmedia flocks to witnesses, friends and relatives of the victim(s) to get their opinion. People always say the same lame things. They make statements such as, “Bill was the best guy in the world. It makes no sense. Why would anyone want to hurt a great guy like Bill?” Or they'll say something like, “Jane gave a lot to the community.

She was a good mother and wife. We just can't figure out why someone would do such a thing.” It's really not that hard to figure out. We have removed children's moral compass. You can't teach children that they evolved from apes and then actually expect them to grow up to believe in morals. The fable of evolution robs a child of faith in a Divine Creator, i.e., a God Who has rules He expects us to live by. No wonder America is in such a big mess today. And you can believe it's only going to get worse, much worse!

Case in point, in April of 2009 a father snapped in Graham, Washington, killing his five children in a shooting rampage, and then took his own life. Mary Ripplinger, whose kids were playmates of the slain, stated, “How could something like this happen?” She further stated, “Everyone's asking: Why did he do it? It's not right.” Is it really that hard to figure out? Look at all the violence Americans watch on TV . . . 

“The American Psychological Association says the average child watches 8,000 televised murders and 100,000 acts of violence before finishing elementary school. That number more than doubles by the time he or she reaches age eighteen.”

SOURCE: John Johnston, “Kids: Growing Up Scared,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 20, 1994, p. E01.

It has been proven through many studies that violence on television DOES increase social violence . . .

“The Parents Television Council cites a review of nearly 1000 studies presented to the American College of Forensic Psychiatry in 1998. They found 'that all but 18 demonstrated that screen violence leads to real violence, and 12 of those 18 were funded by the television industry.' ”

SOURCE: David Grossman, “What the Surgeon General Found; As Early as 1972, the Link Was Clear Between Violent TV and Movies and Violent Youths,” Los Angeles Times, 21 October 1999, B-11.

Mary says, “Everyone's asking: Why did he do it? It's not right.” Now, I'm no expert, but I think it might be because we as a nation have forsaken God, prohibiting public school teachers from reading the Bible to the students, prohibiting public school teachers from leading children in prayer, allowing our children to view thousands of murders on TV and requiring public school teachers to tell children they evolved from apes. When are we going to wake up as Americans are stop kidding ourselves? We get what we deserve.

Americans want to spit on God, murder babies by abortion, fornicate, dress and act like whores, promote witchcraft, watch immoral sex and violence on TV, glorify wickedness in “Sin City” Las Vegas; but then freak out when someone actually does what they've enjoyed watching on TV a thousand times. America is a sicko society. Repent America!

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"That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" -2nd Thessalonians 2:12

 "Ye that love the LORD, hate evil..." -Psalm 97:10

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