In the spirit of that recent Gossip Girl (pictured) ad campaign that cited all those moralists’ complaints about the show’s risqué content, maybe the show will start touting a recent study that suggests that sexy TV shows lead to real-life teen pregnancy. According to Reuters, this RAND study claims a link between exposure to sexual content on TV (broadcast and cable) and unprotected sex among teens. Those teens in the 10 percent of the test pool that watched the TV series with the most sexual content (among those 23 series RAND was monitoring) were at twice the risk for pregnancy as the teens in the bottom 10 percent of those shows’ viewers.
Setting aside all the usual caveats about methodology and statistics, this smells fishy to me. For one thing, as my colleague Mike Bruno points out, correlation is not causation. It’s not clear, at least from the Reuters summary of the study, that the researchers are even suggesting that TV influences these kids to engage in risky sexual behavior; it could be that the kids who most have sex on the brain (because they’re having it) are the ones most inclined to watch such programming as a result. Moreover, as the Reuters article notes, teen pregnancy rates have been on the decline since 1991. Yet TV has undoubtedly gotten sexier, or at least more frank and casual in discussing sex, especially shows that cater to teens. Shouldn’t we be seeing a rise in teen pregnancies, then?
One thing that does seem anecdotally true is that TV offers kids mixed messages about sex. (Sex is HOTTT, but don’t have it until you’re married, after which, it’s NOTTT. Premarital sex can lead to disease and pregnancy, although few characters ever seem to face such consequences. Safe sex means wearing a condom, although no one on TV ever seems to put one on. Losing your virginity is a big deal, even though TV characters tend to describe their first times as humiliating and underwhelming.) Not sure what conclusions anyone could draw, whether teens or researchers, from watching today’s confused, sexually blunt TV.
More on teens and sexy TV:
The ‘racy’ new Gossip Girl ads
New Gossip Girl promos: ‘OMFG’ or ‘Meh’?
Where Gossip Girl’s Nate-and-Jenny liplock rates among TV’s most nauseating smooches
Gossip Girl: Four rumors and the reality
90210: Schoolyard sex too much for TV’s ‘family hour’?
Why politicians have stopped trying to clean up TV
Episode recaps of The Secret Life of the American Teenager