Exposure to sexual content on TV increases teen pregnancy risk

Teenagers who are exposed to sex-saturated content on TV are twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy over the following three years as their peers who don’t watch such shows.

According to a three-year study conducted by RAND research organisation, this is the first study to viewing of racy television programing with risky sexual behavior by teens.

“Our findings suggest that television may play a significant role in the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the United States,” said Anita Chandra, a behavioral scientist who led the research at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.


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“We’re not saying we’re establishing causation, but we are saying this is one factor that we were able to prospectively link to the teen pregnancy outcome,” Chandra said in a phone interview.

The researchers recruited adolescents aged 12 to 17 and surveyed them three times between 2001 and 2004, asking about television viewing habits, sexual behavior and pregnancy.

In findings that covered 718 teenagers, there were 91 pregnancies. The top 10 of adolescents who watched the most sex-saturated programing were at double the risk of becoming pregnant or causing a pregnancy compared to the 10th who watched the fewest such programs, according to the study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study focused on 23 free and cable television programs popular among teenagers including situation comedies, dramas, reality programs and animated shows. Comedies had the most sexual content and reality programs the least.


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“The television content we see very rarely highlights the negative aspects of sex or the risks and responsibilities,” Chandra said. “So if teens are getting any information about sex they’re rarely getting information about pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.”

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