Link between sexual content on television and teen pregnancy
Adolescents who have high levels of exposure to television programmes that contain sexual content are twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy over the following three years as their peers who watch few such shows, according to a new RAND Corporation study.
The study, published in the November edition of the journal Pediatrics, is the first to establish a link between teenagers' exposure to sexual content on TV and either pregnancies among girls or responsibility for pregnancies among boys.
"Adolescents receive a considerable amount of information about sex through television and that programming typically does not highlight the risks and responsibilities of sex," said Anita Chandra, the study's lead author and a behavioural scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "Our findings suggest that television may play a significant role in the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the United States."
Researchers from RAND Health say that exposure to sex on television may influence teen pregnancy by creating the perception that there is little risk to engaging in sex without using contraceptives and accelerating the initiation of sexual intercourse.
Broadcasters should be encouraged to include more realistic depictions of sex in scripts and to portray consequences such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Parents should consider limiting their children's access to programming with sexual content and spending more time watching programmes with their children so they can explain the consequences of sex. Pediatricians should ask adolescents about their media use and discuss with them both contraception and the consequences that may accompany sexual activity.
The new findings are from a RAND research project that previously linked viewing of TV programmes with sexual content with earlier initiation of sexual intercourse and other sexual activities.
Chandra said future research topics should include whether inconsistent contraceptive use may help to explain the relationship between exposure to sex on television and pregnancy.
"Television is just one part of a teenager's media diet that helps to influence their behaviour," Chandra said. "We should also look at the roles that magazines, the internet, and music play in teens' reproductive health."