Teen Pregnancies Tied To Tastes For Sexy
November 3, 2008
CHICAGO (AP) — Groundbreaking research suggests that
pregnancy rates are much higher among teens who watch a
lot of TV with sexual dialogue and behavior than among
those who have tamer viewing tastes.
"Sex and the City," anyone? That was one of the shows
used in the research.
The new study is the first to link those viewing habits
with teen pregnancy, said lead author Anita Chandra, a
Rand Corp. behavioral scientist. Teens who watched the
raciest shows were twice as likely to become pregnant
over the next three years as those who watched few such
Previous research by some of the same scientists had
already found that watching lots of sex on TV can
influence teens to have sex at earlier ages.
Shows that highlight only the positive aspects of sexual
behavior without the risks can lead teens to have
unprotected sex "before they're ready to make
responsible and informed decisions," Chandra said.
The study was released Monday in the November issue of
Pediatrics. It involved 2,003 12- to 17-year-old girls
and boys nationwide questioned by telephone about their
TV viewing habits in 2001. Teens were re-interviewed
twice, the last time in 2004, and asked about pregnancy.
Among girls, 58 became pregnant during the follow-up,
and among boys, 33 said they had gotten a girl pregnant.
Participants were asked how often they watched any of
more than 20 TV shows popular among teens at the time or
which were found to have lots of sexual content. The
programs included "Sex and the City," "That '70s Show"
Pregnancies were twice as common among those who said
they watched such shows regularly, compared with teens
who said they hardly ever saw them. There were more
pregnancies among the oldest teens interviewed, but the
rate of pregnancy remained consistent across all age
groups among those who watched the racy programs.
Chandra said TV-watching was strongly connected with
teen pregnancy even when other factors were considered,
including grades, family structure and parents'
But the study didn't adequately address other issues,
such as self-esteem, family values and income, contends
Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of Answer, a
teen sex education program based at Rutgers University.
"The media does have an impact, but we don't know the
full extent of it because there are so many other
factors," Schroeder said.
But Bill Albert, chief program officer at the nonprofit
National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, praised the
study and said it "catches up with common sense."
"Media helps shape the social script for teenagers. Most
parents know that. This is just good research to confirm
that," Albert said.
Still, U.S. teen pregnancies were on a 15-year decline
until a 3 percent rise in 2006, the latest data
available. Experts think that could be just be a
And Albert noted that the downward trend occurred as TV
shows were becoming more sexualized, confirming that
"it's not the only influence."
Psychologist David Walsh, president of the National
Institute on Media and the Family, cited data suggesting
only about 19 percent of American teens say they can
talk openly with a trusted adult about sex. With many
schools not offering sex education, that leaves the
media to serve as a sex educator, he said.
"For a kid who no one's talking to about sex, and then
he watches sitcoms on TV where sex is presented as this
is what the cool people do," the outcome is obvious,
He said the message to parents is to talk to their kids
about sex long before children are teens. Parents also
should be watching what their kids watch and helping
filter messages sex-filled shows are sending, he said.
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