Originally created 02/10/01

TV sex conundrum

A study showing sexual content on TV has risen sharply since 1997 - from 56 percent of programming to 68 percent - should surprise no one.

Ginning up sex is what one would expect in the wake of late 1990s' national criticism of violence on TV, including some calls for censorship.

The criteria employed by the Kaiser Family Foundation study is confusing. For instance, it's not referring only to hot-and-heavy sex; it's also referencing conversations about sex as well as flirting, kissing and touching - in other words, the entire spectrum.

Obviously, a lot of this is harmless and unobjectionable, but what the public's interested in avoiding is the kind of sexual activity that's tasteless, reckless and embarrassing to see, particularly with children around.

The real point of the study isn't so much the content of the sex as it is the message (or lack thereof): Too little stress on safe sex.

Only 10 percent of programs emphasized sexual risks and responsibilities - although shows most often including these issues featured teens, a trend the report finds encouraging.

In all, 1,114 network and cable programs - including movies, series, soap operas, news magazines and talk shows - were selected at random to be analyzed. Some of the programs, particularly those geared toward teens, actually imparted useful information about sex, but it's information that, in a more perfect world, should be raised and discussed by parents.

The real conundrum is this: Parents who let their kids watch TV unsupervised aren't likely to be influenced by the Kaiser study. And parents who already supervise their kids' TV viewing don't need to be influenced by it.


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