Does Watching Sex on Television Influence Teens’ Sexual Activity?

Rand.org May 2014
The average American teenager watches three hours of television a day. Typical teen fare contains heavy doses of sexual content, ranging from touching, kissing, jokes, and innuendo to conversations about sexual activity and portrayals of intercourse. Sex is often presented as a casual activity without risk or consequences. Conventional wisdom holds that the messages young viewers absorb from television promote sexual activity in this group. Yet, despite the prevalence of this view, there has been little empirical study to date of how watching sex on television influences teenagers’ sexual behavior.

Two recent studies led by RAND Health behavioral scientist Rebecca Collins examined the impact of TV sex on teenagers’ sexual beliefs and activities. The results supported the view that watching shows with sexual content may influence teen sexual behavior, but also found that some viewing effects can be positive.

  • Watching TV shows with sexual content apparently hastens the initiation of teen sexual activity.
  • Sexual talk on TV has the same effect on teens as depictions of sex.
  • Shows with content about contraception and pregnancy can help to educate teens about the risks and consequences of sex–and can also foster beneficial dialogue between teens and parents.
    http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9068.html