Have you noticed how in almost all TV shows these days, the characters casted to play high school students almost always end up being 20-25 year olds in real life. They never actually cast 16 year olds to play juniors in high school. And the topics presented to us in these TV shows are way too advanced for a 16 year old… am I right? TV shows make it seem as if drinking, doing drugs, and having sex are all things that are normal to do in high school. How does sex on TV really affect a teenagers mind?
Two recent studies led by RAND Health behavioral scientist Rebecca Collins that I came across examined the impact of TV sex on teenagers’ sexual beliefs and activities. Some of the key findings discovered through this research is that “teens who watch a lot of television with sexual content are more likely to initiate intercourse in the following year.” Another finding was that “television in which characters talk about sex affects teens just as much as television that actually shows sexual activity.”
The researchers measured levels of exposure to three kinds of sexual content on television. The first was the exposure to sexual behavior such as kissing, intimate touching, and implied or depicted intercourse. The second was the talk about sexual plans or desires or about sex that has occurred, and third was the talk about or behavior showing the risks of or the need for safety in regard to sexual activity: abstinence, waiting to have sex, portrayals mentioning or showing contraceptives, and portrayals related to consequences, such as AIDS, STDs, pregnancy, and abortion.
The results showed that heavy exposure to sexual content on television related strongly to teens’ initiation of intercourse or their progression to more advanced sexual activities. This includes the advancing to “making out” or oral sex within the following year. Youths who viewed the greatest amounts of sexual content were found to be two times more likely to partake in sexual activities than those who did not watch TV shows depicting sex. So what does TV shows have to do with sex? Shows like Degrassi and One Tree Hill and Secret Life of the American Teenager and 16 & Pregnant all depict sex as a common thing for high schoolers of all ages. It seems normal for you to have sex when you’re a freshman in high school. Although everybody has a right to decide when the right time is for them, I think the above examples are pretty telling statistics of the effects media can have on teenagers. I believe some, especially those who have fewer alternative sources of sexual norms, such as parents or friends, may use the media as a guide to encourage them to be more sexually active. So how early is too early?