TV practices ‘safe sex’ while getting steamier

Kaiser Foundation releases raunch report

There’s more sex than ever on TV, but “safe sex” references are increasing, too.

That’s the word from the Kaiser Foundation’s biennial “Sex on TV” study, released Tuesday in Los Angeles during an industry confab at the Museum of TV & Radio. The percentage of shows depicting or implying sexual intercourse rose from 10% two years ago to 14% in the 2001-02 season, according to the study.

The rate was even higher for the 20 top shows among teenage viewers: One in five of those programs, or 20%, included implied or depicted intercourse, the study found.

While sex on the small screen sells — 64% of programs allude to some form of sexual content — this year’s study, the third in a series conducted every two years, suggests one in four shows (26%) that talked about or depicted intercourse also included some reference to safer sex, nearly double the rate found four years ago.

In addition, among shows with sexual content — defined as anything from talking about it to doing it — that involved teen characters, 34% also included the suggestion of safe sex practices, which is up from the previously recorded 18%.

“From a public health perspective, it’s encouraging to see this trend toward greater attention to safer-sex issues on TV,” said Kaiser Family Foundation veepee Vicky Rideout. “This generation is immersed in the media, so when Hollywood makes safer sex sexier — whether it’s abstinence or protection –that’s all to the good.”

This year’s report, overall, among other findings signifies a substantial improvement from Kaiser’s previous analysis in which only 17% of shows addressing sex offered safe options.

The study, designed by U. of California Santa Barbara Communications Prof., Dale Kunkel, and Kaiser’s foundation staff, also found that the teen set’s top 20 programs — which contains 12% more sexual references than primetime on the four major networks — illustrate the most responsible improvements, with almost a half of the shows pairing safe sex and sexual content.

Findings were culled from a survey of 1,123 programs on 10 networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS, WB, Lifetime, TNT, USA, and HBO) excluding newscasts, sports events, and children’s programs. These 10 networks represent a range of TV programming-syndication, public access, broadcast networks and basic and premium cable. The survey focused on shows airing between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. in the 2001-2002 television season, October to March.

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