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In Theory: Does TV glorify sex for teens?

January 12, 2011

Q. The Parents Television Council has released a report in which it claims prime-time TV shows sexualize the young girls portrayed in them. The report is based on a content analysis of the most popular television shows for viewers aged 12-17 in the 2009-2010 season and states, "when underage female characters appear on screen more sexual content is depicted; the teen girls show next to no negative response to being sexualized; and more sexual incidents occur outside of any form of a committed relationship... [as a result] real teens are led to believe their sole value comes from their sexuality."

Among other things, the report found that underage female characters are shown participating in a higher percentage of sexual depictions compared to adults; that 93% of the sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred within a context that qualified as "unhealthy"; and 75% of shows that included sexualized underage female characters were shows that did not have an "S" descriptor to warn parents about the sexual content.

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Do you think young girls are presented in a sexual manner on television and movies? Should such content be toned down, or should parents take responsibility for that their kids watch?

 

I agree that it's disconcerting to see high-school girls in sexual situations on TV — not because that's not an accurate portrayal of real life, but because of the aging-up phenomenon. It's one thing for high-school girls to watch TV shows with adult sexuality and then act that out to be grown-up; it's another thing for the TV shows to portray high-school girls themselves as sexual — which means that middle-school girls are likely to act that out to be grown-up.

More disconcerting than that is the statistic that 93% of the sexual situations are unhealthy. It's one thing to model that sex is OK; it's another thing to model that demeaning, diminishing, soulless sex is OK — and never to show sex that is glad, loving and tender.

Yet more disconcerting is the implication that sex is the exclusive prerogative of the beautiful, cool kids; that only cheerleaders and handsome vampire boys get to enjoy sex. Surely that won't help the widespread suffering of American teenage girls struggling with body image, or boys searching for self-confidence.

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