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Sexual content on TV is linked to teen pregnancy

November 3, 2008 |  8:00 am

City1Teenagers who watch a lot of television programs that contain sexual content are more than twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy, according to a study published today in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers from RAND Corporation surveyed about 2,000 adolescents, ages 12 to 17, nationwide in 2001 about their television habits and sexual behavior. Researchers focused on 23 programs popular among teenagers that were widely available on broadcast and cable TV. The shows included dramas, comedies, reality programs and animated shows. Sexual content was defined as depictions of sex as well as dialogue or discussion about sex. The participants were surveyed again three years later. About 700 said they had engaged in sexual intercourse by the third survey.

The teens who watched the most sexual content on TV (the 90th percentile) were twice as likely to have become pregnant or caused a pregnancy compared to the teens who watched the least amount of sexual content on TV (the 10th percentile). Adolescents who lived in a two-parent household had a lower probability of pregnancy while African Americans and adolescents with behavior problems were more likely to be involved in a pregnancy.

Parents should consider limiting their teen's exposure to sexual content on TV, said the study's lead author, Anita Chandra, a behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. Television producers should consider more realistic depictions of the consequences of sex in their scripts, she says, noting that there is little content on the consequences of unprotected sex. About 1 million adolescents become pregnant each year in the United States.

"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 Chandra, in a news release. "Our findings suggest that television may play a significant role in the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the United States."

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Mark Liddell/HBO

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