Watching certain TV shows correlates with teen pregnancy

The results of an interesting study that’s been reported on today demonstrates a meaningful positive correlation between the amount of sexual content that teens view on TV and their chances of getting or causing a pregnancy.

The RAND Corp. study is the first of its kind to identify a link between teenagers’ exposure to sexual content on TV and teen pregnancies. The study, released Monday and published in the November edition of the journal Pediatrics, found that teens exposed to high levels of sexual content on television were twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy in the following three years as teens with limited exposure.

The study was paid for by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and follows a 2004 study by some of the same scientists that indicated watching sexual content on TV can make teens more likely to have sex at earlier ages.  The authors, lead by Anita Chandra, point out that teen pregnancy is a complicated issue influenced by many variables.  While the study found that the correlation remained when factors like grades, family structure and parents’ education level were considered, the study didn’t control for other issues, like self esteem, family values, and income.  Looking at those variables would be a good next step.

The researchers are calling for more realistic plotlines in television that address the possible consequences of sexual activity, which is rarely, if ever, shown as leading to unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. “Right now the message teens are getting is that everything is great, and there really are no consequences to sex,” Chandra said.

Two recent high-profile teen pregnancies, those of Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin, also have some of these qualities.  Both individuals have many advantages in terms of finances and family that will help them as they move forward and raise their children; they won’t be as inconvenienced and limited by having to raise children as many young women would be, possibly giving a false impression on how easy and glamorous it is to raise children as a teen who hasn’t even graduated from high school yet.

Many social conservatives will welcome this news.  If so, they should also accept the massive amounts of data that indicate that abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work to prevent teen pregnancy or STDs.  (See, for instance, here, here, and here.) All sex education includes information on abstinence; abstinence education isn’t the problem, the problem is abstinence-only sex ed that excludes information on everything else—and which frequently even give incorrect information to students.

It seems to me that to have the best chances of teens—and other people—making the best sex-related decisions, we should make sure our schools are giving the best information possible and that those messages aren’t being drowned out by a bunch of misleading and unchecked messages from TV and the rest of our society that give people wrong impressions.  Let’s give people good information, help them think critically about the issues involved, and then trust them to make their own decisions.

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1 comment so far

  1. Cris Cohen on

    Something tells me this still won’t inspire HBO to produce a show called “Abstinence in the City”.


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