Video: Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen Pregnancy?


Anita Chandra, RAND Senior Policy Researcher

Despite recent progress in teen pregnancy rates, the rates in our country remain significantly higher than other industrialized nations. In fact, they are rates double or more than those nations. In addition, we know that teens spend a lot of their time watching television, on average about three hours a day. But we know very little about the impact of that television on their health. So in our RAND research, we were the first to demonstrate a link between watching lots of sexual content on television and the risk of a subsequent teen pregnancy.

The way that we conducted our study was to survey teenagers at three time points: in 2001, 2002, and 2004. So we followed these teenagers for three years, and we asked them a series of questions about their television viewing habits as well as their sexual attitudes and behavior. And through our analysis, we were able to link watching high sexual content on television with their risk of a pregnancy during their teen years.

One possible explanation for why we saw this link between watching this kind of sexual content and the risk of a pregnancy is that we know that television rarely shows the risks and responsibilities of sex. So if teens are learning about sex through television, they're very rarely getting information about the potential negative consequences, such as a pregnancy.

A possible outcome of our research is to help teens prepare and understand the messages that they're receiving from television, help them to have the tools to filter the messages that they're receiving to understand a little bit more about the negative consequences of the sexual content that they're viewing.