We've all heard the axiom that television harms kids, but what about ... getting them pregnant? That's the question asked by researchers behind a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. They found that, among sexually active teenagers, those who spend the most time watching racy programming like "Sex and the City" are twice as likely to become, or get a partner, pregnant. (They are also fives times as likely to have Manolo-fueled credit card debt. Kidding.)
Researchers interviewed 718 sexually active teens aged 12 to 17 once a year for three years and, based on an analysis of 23 TV shows, estimated the amount of sexual content (including kissing, petting and sex) that they had been exposed to. About 12 percent of those who viewed the least amount of sexual programming became involved in a pregnancy, compared to 25 percent of those who consumed the most. A total of 58 girls got pregnant and 33 boys got a partner pregnant during the study.
The lead author, Anita Chandra, told Time, "The relationship between exposure of this kind of content on TV and the risk of later pregnancy is fairly strong." She added that even controlling for other factors -- like family structure, parents' education and school performance -- "the association still holds."
Note that she says "association" and not "causation." It's possible that the more a teen is exposed to spicy content devoid of safe sex practices, the more likely they are to engage in unsafe sex. But you have to wonder why those teens who consume the most sexual content are drawn to it in the first place. Could it be that, as a result of being more interested in sex, they log more hours watching sexy programming, and are also more likely to take sexual risks?
It's unfortunate that the study didn't factor in the impact of various approaches to sex education. For all we know, it could be that teens deprived of sex education are more likely to expect the boob tube to drop some sexual knowledge -- which, of course, it does, but not in the way of safe sex practices.
Any way you look at it, though, this is as good a reminder as any of the importance of comprehensive sex ed. Except -- ehhn, wrong! -- abstinence advocates look at the same symptoms and come up with an entirely different diagnosis. Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association told the Washington Post that we "have a highly sexualized culture that glamorizes sex" and "really need to encourage schools to make abstinence-centered programs a priority."