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TV sex rampant, study finds


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Photo Illustration by Cassandra Tomlin/Arizona Daily Wildcat
A study by UA researchers shows that sexual content on TV has doubled over the past eight years. The researchers are trying to determine how the portrayal of sex on TV influences teenagers.
By Danielle Rideau
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
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Teens imitate behavior on television, not parents' example, researchers say

A group of UA researchers think more safe sex programs need to be shown on TV after their study found that sexual content on the airwaves nearly doubled in the last eight years.

The team of UA researchers, Dale Kunkel, Karen Eyal and Edward Donnerstein, has been conducting research every two years that studies the frequency of sexual content on television programs.

The study shows that over the past eight years, sexual content aired on TV has doubled since the study's first run, said Kunkel, the study's head researcher.

Kunkel, a professor of communication, said he began the study in 1997 while he was a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, and brought it with him when he began as a professor at the UA last year.

Since the study began, the data have shown that young viewers are learning about sex by seeing such concepts on TV instead of talking to their parents, Kunkel said.

"Teens have told us they turn to TV to learn about sexual norms and to find out what are the accepted sexual patterns," Kunkel said.

The purpose of the survey isn't to have producers reduce their sexual portrayals on programs, but to better understand how their programs influence how teens view sex, according to the executive research summary.

"We want them to realize they have a responsibility," Kunkel said. "We want sex portrayed in a responsible and realistic fashion."

Kunkel suggests producers have a responsibility to show "risk and responsibility messages" on their programs that explain the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and the risks of intercourse.

In order to assess what kind of effects sexual content has, the researchers recorded each number of sexual references and scenes in a total of 1,000 shows each year, compiling the random samples to make a composite week, Eyal said.

All types of programs were studied with the exception of live sports, daily news programs, game shows and movies, Kunkel said.

The study results show that in 2005, there were 3,800 sexual references or scenes, while the study in 1998, which analyzed the same number of shows, had 1,900 references, according to the executive summary.

While Kunkel and his team said they understand "sex sells," it is also important for producers to see that airing more sex on television has influenced children to have sex at a younger age.

Fifteen UA undergraduate students helped analyze the television programs, Kunkel said. The students were trained to analyze the programs for sexual content and received academic credit for independent research.

Donnerstein, a co-principal investigator and dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences was unavailable for comment.

The research has been able to continue with the help of a $165,000 grant from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Kunkel said.



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