TV sex content, teen pregnancies linked: Indian American researcher

November 3rd, 2008 - 1:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Nov 3 (IANS) Adolescents who watch sex-saturated TV shows are twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy over the following three years as their peers who don’t watch such shows, says a study that is the first to establish the link.The RAND study of about 2,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 establishes the link between teenagers’ exposure to sexual content on TV and either pregnancies among girls or responsibility for pregnancies among boys.

“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 Indian American Anita Chandra, the study’s co-author and behavioural scientist at RAND.

“Our findings suggest that television may play a significant role in the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the US,” she said.

Researchers from RAND Health said that exposure to sex on TV may influence teen pregnancy by creating the perception that there is little risk to engage in sex without using contraceptives and accelerating the initiation of sexual intercourse.

“The amount of sexual content on television has doubled in recent years, and there is little representation of safer sex practices in those portrayals,” Chandra warned.

“While some progress has been made, teenagers who watch television are still going to find little information about the consequences of unprotected sexual practices among the many portrayals promoting sex.”

Broadcasters should be encouraged to include more realistic depictions of sex in scripts and to portray consequences such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, according to a RAND release. These findings were published in the November edition of Paediatrics.

The RAND study is based on a national survey of about 2,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 who were recruited in 2001 and asked about TV viewing habits and sexual behaviour.

The participants were surveyed thrice. The latest analysis is based upon results from about 700 participants who had engaged in sexual intercourse by the third survey and reported their pregnancy history.

Researchers focussed on 23 programmes popular among teenagers that were widely available on broadcast and cable TV, and contained high levels of sexual content (both depictions of sex as well as dialogue or discussion about sex). The shows included dramas, comedies, reality programmes and animated shows.

RAND researchers found several other factors, in addition to TV viewing, that influenced whether adolescents were likely to experience a pregnancy.

Adolescents living in a two-parent household had a lower probability of pregnancy, while girls, African-Americans and those with more problem behaviours such as discipline problems were more likely to experience a pregnancy. Youths who intended to have children early also were more likely to experience a pregnancy.

The US has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates among industrialised nations. Nearly one million young women become pregnant each year, with the majority of these pregnancies unplanned.

Research has shown that young mothers are more likely than others to quit school, require public assistance and to live in poverty.

Chandra is a behavioural scientist trained in public health and community-based participatory research and evaluation and whose work focuses on child and adolescent mental health.

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