SIECUS Logo

Support SIECUS!

Make sexuality education available to all.

Stay informed!

Sign up for SIECUS newsletters, updates, action alerts, and more!

Quick Links

Study Finds Correlation between Watching Sex on TV and Teen Pregnancy

A study released in the November online edition of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found a correlation between how many sexual images teens watch and their involvement in teen pregnancies. The study found that teenagers who watched the most sexual content on television were more likely to engage in sexual activity and were about twice as likely to be involved in a teenage pregnancy as those who watched the least.[1]
 
Researchers interviewed 2,000 adolescents ages 12–17 over several years, beginning in 2001. Researchers asked how often the teens watched various popular TV shows that contained high amounts of sexual content, such as Sex and the City. In follow up interviews over the course of a couple of years, ending in 2004, the teenagers were asked about pregnancy. Among the 718 sexually active teenagers, about 25% who watched the most sexual content were involved in a pregnancy compared to 12% who watched the least.[2] 
 
“Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy,” said Anita Chandra, lead researcher in the study. [3] The study provides the first evidence that there maybe a correlation between viewing sexual images on TV and teen pregnancies. Many experts on teen pregnancy site the importance of such research, but they are cautious about how much influence the media can have in teenagers’ behavior. While scholars give the report credit for exploring a possible correlation between viewing sexual images on TV and teen pregnancy, they are quick to point out that the report does not claim a direct causation. Many see TV as a possible factor in teen pregnancies, but are wary of how strong of an influence it can be. [4]     
 
The study controlled for single-parent homes, parent’s race and income, wanting to have a baby, and engaging in high-risk behaviors. The study, however, did not control for the kind of sex education the teenagers were given, which is causing a debate between abstinence-until-marriage-only proponents and those advocating for comprehensive sexuality education over how these results can be interpreted in terms of sex education policy. ”We have a highly sexualized culture that glamorizes sex,” said Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association. ”We really need to encourage schools to make abstinence-centered programs a priority.” [5]
 
Proponents of comprehensive sexuality education see the research in a different light. “Television provides too much titillation and not enough education about how young people can avoid pregnancy,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. “The study provides further evidence that we need a national approach to sex education that goes beyond the failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that have exploded over the past decade.”
 


[1] Rebecca L. Collins, Marc N. Elliott, Sandra H. Berry, David E. Kanouse, Dale Kunkel, Sarah B. Hunter, and Angela Miu, “Watching Sex on Television Predicts Adolescent Initiation of Sexual Behavior” Pediatrics 114: e280-e289. Published online 31 October 2008, accessed 10 November 2008,  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/
[2] National Partnership for Women and Families: Daily Women’s Health Policy Report, “Study Links Sexual Content on TV with Teen Pregnancy,” 9 November 2008, accessed 10 November 2008, http://www.nationalpartnership.org
[3] Rob Stein, “Study First to Link TV Sex to Real Teen Pregnancies,” Washington Post, 3 Nov 2008, accessed 10 November 2008, http://www.washingtonpost.com
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.

Email a Friend Print this Page Give us your feedback
National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education