In what it billed as "the largest study ever of sexual content on television," the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation examined more than 1,000 programs including movies, sitcoms, soap operas, news magazines and talk and reality shows on ABC, CBS, Fox, HBO, Lifetime, NBC, TNT, PBS, USA, and KTLA (the Los Angeles WB affiliate).
The foundation reports in Sex On TV, its second biennial report on television sex, that the percentage of all shows with sexual content rose from 56 percent in the 1997-1998 season to 68 percent in 1999 and 2000. The percentage of prime-time network shows featuring sexual situations shot from 67 percent in 1997-98 to 75 percent in the last two years.
While more shows put sex on the screen, the number of shows offering safe sex messages remained at around 10 percent. The Kaiser study found that shows in which characters were engaged in sexual intercourse or where teen-agers were the stars were most likely to feature safe sex information.
Kaiser Family Foundation vice president Victoria Rideout criticized networks for not doing more to promote safe sex. "While some shows are taking advantage of that opportunity, nine out of ten are not," she said.
The foundation claims television messages play a part in dissuading young viewers from behavior that leads to four million cases of sexually transmitted diseases and 750,000 unwanted teen pregnancies annually.
On the other hand, references to abstinence, cndoms, unwanted pregnancies or the emotional consequences of sex were considered "safe-sex messages."
The study found that 84 percent of sitcoms contain sexually oriented language or action, up from 56 percent in the previous study. Only movies, at 89 percent, have more sex.
Among dramas, sexual content rose from 58 percent to 69 percent.
Temptation Island aside, the study found that reality television was the least sexy genre: 27 percent of such shows in 1999-2000 included sexual content, well below the overall average.
Talk shows and soaps were the only two genres that did not show an increase in such content: The sexual content in soap operas dropped from 85 percent to 80 percent; in talk shows, it dropped from 78 percent to 67 percent.
The foundation is an independent philanthropic group that studies health care, including reproductive and AIDS-related issues. It is not affiliated with the Kaiser medical organization.
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