Media's Effect on Teen Sex Not Known

Article excerpt

Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

There is more sex in the mass media, and teens are logging more hours of exposure, but little is known about how teens react to such sexual imagery, according to an article in the new issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

This "gap" in knowledge has major public health implications, wrote study author S. Liliana Escobar-Chaves and her colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

It's well-known that the mass media influence teen attitudes and behaviors on issues such as violence, eating disorders, tobacco and alcohol use, she wrote.

But despite the growth of sexual content in the media, very little is known about its effect on teens, she said, noting that out of 2,522 studies on youth and the media conducted from 1983 to 2004, 13 examined sexual issues.

Moreover, Ms. Escobar-Chaves said, the few studies done on teens, sex and the media have focused on TV and movies. Virtually nothing is known about how teens are affected by sexually charged radio commentary, music, magazines, advertising, Internet sites, and video and computer games, she wrote.

This dearth of knowledge is troubling because "adolescents accept, learn from and may emulate behaviors portrayed in media as normative, attractive and without risk," Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital in Boston/Harvard Medical School, said in a commentary in the journal.

Groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics have lambasted the entertainment media for "irresponsible" and "unrealistic" portrayals of sexual activity, such as allowing unmarried characters to be promiscuous but never get pregnant or catch a sexual disease, he said. …