The advent of television has only increased our dependence on visual media, and it is probably no exaggeration to say that television is the single strongest influence on the

modern American outlook toward life. It is estimated that teenagers watch 3 hours of television each day and one in four teens says that television influences his or her behavior (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2003; Roberts et al., 2005). Parents believe that sexual content on television influences teenage sexual behavior (Kunkel et al., 2005).

Television and Film: Stereotypes, Sex, and the Decency IssueПодпись: Although now in reruns, the HBO hit “Sex in the City” broke new ground by openly discussing the sex lives of four single women living in New York City.Television allows us to have the world delivered to us in the com­fort of our home. But the world we see on TV is only a small slice of the real world; television, like the movies, edits and sanitizes the world it displays. For example, although literally hundreds of acts of sexual intercourse are portrayed or suggested on television shows and in the movies every day, we rarely see a couple discuss or use contraception, discuss the morality of their actions, contract a sexually transmitted in – I fection, worry about AIDS, experience erectile dysfunction, or regret the act afterward. Most couples fall into bed shortly after initial physi­cal attraction and take no time to build an emotional relationship be­fore becoming sexually active. Values and morals about sexuality seem nonexistent.

In an attempt to capture viewers back from cable and satellite stations, the major television networks have been increasing the sexual content of their programming (Kunkel et al., 2005). Television talk shows have also become decidedly more graphic in their content. As the number of talk show hosts has increased, so has competition for provocative guests, and a good sexual confession—men who cross-dress, mothers who sleep with their teenage sons’ best friends, women who leave their spouses for other women, teenage prostitutes—are guaranteed at least to catch some attention. The HBO hit Sex in the City broke new ground by having four women openly discussing their sex­uality. Popular nightly dramas such as Laguna Beach and Desperate Housewives both use sex to entice viewers.

Television magazine shows that imitate news reports but concentrate on two or three stories (e. g., 48 Hours) often search for stories with lurid content, and if there is a sexual scandal or a rape accusation in the news, they are sure to feature it. Even the “hard” news shows, such as the networks’ evening news reports, have turned a corner in their willingness to use graphic descriptions of sex­ual events. News shows, after all, also need ratings to survive, and one way to interest audiences is to report legitimate news stories that have a sexual content in a graphic and provocative way. These news re­ports deliver the sexually explicit information with the implicit mes­sage that they disapprove of it; but they still deliver it.

Television and movie producers believe that “sex sells,” and so they fill their programming with it. In 2005, Sex on TV4, a biennial study of sexual content on television, analyzed over 1,000 hours of program-

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ming including all genres of television shows. Overall, 70% of the shows studied included some sexual content; and shows averaged 5 sex­ual episodes per hour (Kunkel et al., 2005). These numbers were up from 1998, when 56% of shows included sexual content, and 3.2 sex­ual episodes occurred every hour. During prime-time programming,

77% of shows included sexual content and averaged close to 6 sexual episodes per hour (Kunkel et al., 2005; see Figures 18.1, 18.2, and 18.3).

This study also found that only 11% of prime-time network shows made references to sexual risks or responsibilities, and this percentage has re­mained virtually the same since 1998 (Kunkel et al., 2005).

Interestingly, approximately 53% of sexual scenes that included inter­course were between couples with an established relationship; 20% were between couples who have met but who have no relationship;

15% were between couples who have just met; and in 12% of cases it was unclear what the couple’s relationship is (Kunkel et al., 2005).

The AIDS epidemic was a key factor in opening up the way news organizations speak about sexuality (for example, the word condom

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Подпись:would never have appeared on a major news network before AIDS). Another landmark came in 1998 when news broke of a sex scandal between then-President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. The Clinton-Lewinsky story was one of the biggest of the decade and was covered by most evening news shows in explicit detail. This story broke prece­dent and allowed the networks to use language and sexual references that would have been unthinkable just a few years before.

The new frankness on television can, of course, be used to transmit important sex­ual information and help demystify sexuality through educational programming. Shows such as Talk Sex with Sue Johanson on Oxygen and other shows have helped educate the public about sex. However, the vast majority of sexual references are made to titillate, not inform, and much of the sex portrayed on television is provided in an artificial and unrealistic light (Kunkel et al., 2005).