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November 13, 2008

Are TV Shows Getting Teen Girls Pregnant?

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Do television shows like "Sex and the City" and "Gossip Girl" encourage teen girls to get pregnant?  Well that's the finding of a Rand Health study published last week in the November issue of Pediatrics.  According to a New York Daily news article by Jane H. Furse about the study:

Rand Corp. behavioral scientist Anita Chandra found teens who watched the sexiest shows were twice as likely to become pregnant over the next three years as those who watched few such programs. 

Personally I'm of two minds on this one.  TV and pop culture can't bear the full blame for teen pregnancy because there are so many other issues like parental involvement, sex education---or lack thereof---and peer pressure that influence teens.  However, I'd feel more comfortable about TV teen sexual activity if there were more examples of couples having sex where the condom breaks, or where the guy can't get an erection or where the participants are all thumbs. 

Honestly, I think soap operas can be more insidious than shows like "Gossip Girl" because the characters are on TV five days a week, and the shows are more slowly paced and hence seem more like real life.  Part of the problem with soaps is they perpetuate the "undying love at all costs" that "lives forever and never dies."  Well, we in the real world know most romantic love isn't like that and especially not for teens. 

On ABC's soap "One Life To Live" for example, Starr Manning is 16 years old and pregnant.  She and her boyfriend Cole are truly, deeply, madly in unconditional love and will do anything for each other.  Except when she gets pregnant and then plans to give the baby up for adoption.  All sorts of bedlam ensues but we all know that Cole and Starr really, truly, deeply love each other and are destined to be together, because everyone knows you can't choose who you love, right? 

Um, okay.

Now before you say, hey Megan stop being a spoilsport, let me tell you I'm as big a romanctic as anyone, and I always have been, but I've also always viewed pop culture with a critical eye.  Even as a teenager.  So in some respects teens need to be taught to be more savvy about pop culture and that means parents being more open with their teens about how sex is presented. 

Ashley at See Here's The Thing, is Highly, Highly Skeptical That Sexy TV Is Responsible For Knocking Up Teens:

There have been plenty of TV shows out there that show the consequences of teen sex (I’ll cite Gilmore Girls, where Rory’s loss of virginity with her married ex-boyfriend was a mess and poor Lane got pregnant on her first time having sex, which, incidentally, was with her husband!).  How would the results have changed if shows like those were included? 

Ashley then goes on to give a great list of teen TV couples who did have consequences of sex.

The example of Lane from "Gilmore Girls" is an excellent one.  Lane and her husband Zack have sex for the first time on the beach on their honeymoon.  When Lane comes home, she accuses her friend Rory of being part of a huge conspiracy to make virgins think sex is the most wonderful experience in the world when it's really just oh, so lame.  After her cold, wet, sandy experience of intercourse on the beach she now knows better and vows to never have sex again.

That's actually okay because to her surprise, that one encounter was enough to get her pregnant.  Unfortunately though "Gilmore Girls" lasted long enough for Lane to deliver a beautiful baby, the show was canceled before Lane and Zack could have good sex.

Understandably, the Rand study's been a popular topic in the blogosphere among those who agree with the study and those who are skeptics. 

Half Sigma thinks the study misses the mark:

The problem is that this data says nothing about cause and effect (nor even what TV shows are included other than the two mentioned). It is likely that teenagers having the most sex would be the most interested in watching TV shows where the characters talk about sex. Thus, sex causes viewership of these TV shows and not the other way around. 

Lindsay at Suburban Turmoil cited the 2007 movie "Juno" as an example of Hollywood fare that can be problematic especially when it became her 17 year old daughter's favorite movie:

I always knew there was something just... wrong about Gossip Girl. And don't even get me started on Juno. I mean, I actually liked the film, but geez, glamorize teen pregnancy much?

Mom of three, Candace at Candy on the Cape enjoys teen TV dramas, but:

I knew we weren't in Kansas anymore when the new "90210" opened with a girl giving a guy a blow job. Too many girls look at themselves as sexual commodities to be traded amongst the guys in their circle and don't recognize or respect their own value. It's startling to me to read about girls who randomly perform oral sex on boys at parties, on school buses and in school bathrooms. Where have we gone so wrong?

At Black Doctor.org, writer Syleena Johnson pointed out additional teen sex stats:

Psychologist David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, cited data suggesting only about 19 percent of American teens say they can talk openly with a trusted adult about sex. With many schools not offering sex education, that leaves the media to serve as a sex educator, he said.

"For a kid who no one's talking to about sex, and then he watches sitcoms on TV where sex is presented as this is what the cool people do," the outcome is obvious, Walsh said.

Dr. Robyn Silverman at The Powerful Parent Blog cites further results from the Rand study and also gives tips for parents on how to encourage their teens to think twice before hopping into bed.

As far as Starr Manning on "One Life To Live," in true soap style, her baby's going to be kidnapped once it's born and Starr's going to be told the baby died.  However you can just bet Starr will eventually find out the truth and she and Cole will live happily ever after...for a couple of weeks.

Cross Posted From BlogHer


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