A new study contends that teenagers who watch overtly sexual television programs have a far greater chance of being involved with a teen pregnancy. In fact, the research suggests that teens who often watch sexual content are twice as likely to become pregnant, or get someone else pregnant.
The study, which was reported today in the LA Times, was authored by researchers at the RAND Corp. The scientists followed the viewing habits of approximately 2000 teens across the country, and polled the youngsters about their sexual behavior, as well as their TV viewing habits.
The researchers focused their attention on 23 television programs which have been identified as highly sexual in nature. The teen participants in the study were followed for a period of three years, and questioned about the extent of their sexual experiences. By the end of the study, more than one third of the participants admitted to having sex at least once.
But not surprisingly, the teens who most often viewed sexual programs on television proved more likely to become pregnant, or cause a teen pregnancy, than those who seldom watched overtly sexual television content. It was also noted that adolescents living in two-parent homes had a significantly lower probability of becoming pregnant.
The lead author of the study, behavioral scientist Anita Chandra, said that parents need to limit their children’s exposure to overtly sexual television programming. Chandra also believes that TV networks and producers need to accept responsibility and began showing more realistic depictions of the consequences of sexual activity, including the risk of disease and teen pregnancy.
In the United States, approximately one million teenage girls become pregnant every year. This makes the teenage pregnancy rate in the United States one of the highest in the industrialized world, and experts point out that the lack of quality sexual education and information available to many teens is a contributing factor in teen pregnancies.
Critics point out, however, that the RAND study does not prove causality. In other words, it is entirely possible that teenagers who are more sexual in nature are drawn to watch more sexual programs on television. In all likelihood though, the evidence suggest that it works both ways: highly sexual teens tend to watch more sex on television, and teens who watch a lot of sexual content tend to become more sexual themselves.
Either way, a growing body of research suggests that teens (and even adults) are influenced by what they watch on TV, and watching programs that are highly sexual in nature tends to encourage more sexual behavior.