Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen Pregnancy?

Findings from a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth

Published In: Pediatrics, v. 122, no. 5, Nov. 2008, p. 1047-1054

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2008

by Anita Chandra, Steven Martino, Rebecca L. Collins, Marc N. Elliott, Sandra H. Berry, David E. Kanouse, Angela Miu

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OBJECTIVE. There is increasing evidence that youth exposure to sexual content on television shapes sexual attitudes and behavior in a manner that may influence reproductive health outcomes. To our knowledge, no previous work has empirically examined associations between exposure to television sexual content and adolescent pregnancy. METHODS. Data from a national longitudinal survey of teens (12-17 years of age, monitored to 15-20 years of age) were used to assess whether exposure to televised sexual content predicted subsequent pregnancy for girls or responsibility for pregnancy for boys. Multivariate logistic regression models controlled for other known correlates of exposure to sexual content and pregnancy. The authors measured experience of a teen pregnancy during a 3-year period. RESULTS. Exposure to sexual content on television predicted teen pregnancy, with adjustment for all covariates. Teens who were exposed to high levels of television sexual content (90th percentile) were twice as likely to experience a pregnancy in the subsequent 3 years, compared with those with lower levels of exposure (10th percentile). CONCLUSIONS. This is the first study to demonstrate a prospective link between exposure to sexual content on television and the experience of a pregnancy before the age of 20. Limiting adolescent exposure to the sexual content on television and balancing portrayals of sex in the media with information about possible negative consequences might reduce the risk of teen pregnancy. Parents may be able to mitigate the influence of this sexual content by viewing with their children and discussing these depictions of sex.

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