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The Influence of Sex on Television

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By alucas531
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This paper will discuss the overly sexual explicit material on television and the effects that it has on children and families. Children watch hours of television a day and are influenced by its programming and advertising. Many children and teenagers are persuaded to initiate sexual acts that they see on television. They are also being educated by the programming on television versus their teachers and parents.

The Influence of Sex on Televsion
Even in the beginning of the life of television, certain individuals had dreams of making the television an entertainment phenomenon. Today, with more than 1 billion television sets spread throughout the world, and an average of 2.86 television sets in each household we rely more on television than any other communication device (Bleakley, Hennessy, & Fishbein, 2011). We use it for entertainment, communication, education, and recreation with entertainment being the main source for many people. With the television being the main focal point of so many households many individuals believe this common item is actually detrimental to our society. With its overwhelming depiction of sex, and how sex is portrayed in our society, it is enough to make one think that our world is being transformed into an entertainment reality. Although many individuals realize that television is not real, and they understand how to comprehend the difference between reality and fiction in our society the studies and facts speak louder that television is more harmful than beneficial. To understand the effects of television and sex on our society and on our growing and impressionable children we can examine what acts are actually shown on television, who watches what, how children and teens respond to television, how soap operas and other reality shows shape our culture’s views and morals regarding sex, how politics and government play a role, evaluate a comparison of television today with television of the past, how contraception is portrayed on television, and how society in general has responded to television and its depiction of sex.

Background There are hundreds of broadcast, cable satellite television channels and even streaming live via the internet sending out hour after hour of programming to viewers across the world. The question is what is actually shown on television and how often is it shown? A study found that in one average hour of prime time television there were instances of rape, homosexuality, unmarried intercourse, casual intercourse, married intercourse, and prostitution. (Collins, 2004) The study found that unmarried intercourse was shown the most often followed by prostitution, and homosexuality with intercourse between married couples shown the least out of all of the acts. In another study it was found that intercourse between unmarried couples was two to three times more likely than sex between married couples in sitcoms, reality shows, and movies.(Collins, 2004) Sexual violence has gradually become a part of cable movies and music videos. In a response to competition, broadcasters have also made sexual violence a part of their own repertoire. Often, rape is dramatized on prime-time television with only a brief warning to viewers at the beginning of the program. These aren’t just secluded to prime time television. There are approximately “twenty to twenty-five violent acts per hour in children’s programs compared to only about five to six violent acts per hour in prime time television, and in our society today violence is often always depicted as sexual violence.” (Kunlel, Cope, Biely, Farinola, & Rollin, 1999), According to one estimate the “average child between five and 15 years of age sees the violent destruction of 13,400 human beings a year on television (cartoon characters excluded)” (Kunkel, Cope, Biely, Farinola, & Rollin, 1999). The Kaiser Family Foundation, a California advocacy group, analyzed prime-time programs from the 1996-97 television season and found that three out of four programs had sexual content and 30 percent made sex a primary focus. (Kunkel, Cope, Biely, Farinola, & Rollin, 1999).
Issues with excessive television exposure
By the time Americans are eighteen years old, they will have spent approximately 15,000 hours in front of a television set (Kunkel, Cope, Biely, Farinola, & Rollin, 1999). This sole statistic shows how dependent children and adolescents are on television sets. With so many children tuned into television every day, one would think that children’s shows would be the main focus, but in the United States that isn’t the fact. American public broadcasting only carries about 200 hours of children’s programs a year and they rely heavily on reruns. When compared to England, whose British Broadcasting Corporation airs about 840 hours of children’s programs a year, the comparison is incredible (Bleakley, Hennessy, & Fishbein, 2011). Children’s programs are also based on merchandise more than anything else. Networks and toy companies base their shows and cartoons around toys that are popular, lessening the educational worth of programs. So without proper programs, children are forced to change the channel to watch other things which may not be appropriate. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, children watch more television from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. than they do on Saturday mornings or on weekday afternoons. (Kunkel, Cope, Biely, Farinola, & Rollin, 1999) The study also found that on a typical night in the United States, 13.1 million children seventeen and younger are watching prime-time shows. Children aren’t just exposed to sex during prime time hours, they are exposed to it during daytime soap operas, daytime talk shows, music videos which play constantly, reality television shows and also in programs which are supposed to be intended for children. Young children watching television are also affected differently than adults are. Children up to the age of three and four are unable to distinguish fact from fantasy. In a young child’s mind, television is a source of entirely factual information regarding how the world works. Children who watch a lot of television are also more likely to think that the world is a mean and dangerous place. It has also been found that children who watch an excess of two to three hours of television a day have significantly lower reading scores. In this day and age the television is often used by parents as a baby-sitter. Children can sit in front of it and be amused for hours on end without bothering their parents. With 48% of American households having a television set in the child’s bedroom it is no surprise what these children learn from what comes from their television sets (Bleakley, Hennessy, & Fishbein, 2011).
Effects on Teenagers Teenagers may be just as influenced as younger children when it comes to watching television. Often teenagers receive their first sexual knowledge through a television set and it is portrayed through unmarried couples having unprotected sex. They often learn that sex is a promiscuous event that has no consequences whatsoever. In a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, it was found that “teenagers view nearly 15,000 sexual references, innuendoes, and jokes on television and fewer than 170 of those references deal with abstinence, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.” (Bogt, Engels, Bogers, Kloosterman, 2010). The study also found that the so-called “family hour” of television viewing from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. contains more than eight sexual incidents per hour. (Bogt, Engels, Bogers, Kloosterman, 2010). Adolescents also watch shows such as GLEE, Gossip Girl, and MTV’s Teen Mom where they see teenagers the same age as they are having sex. MTV’s Jersey Shore and other reality shows also portray young people having sex and with multiple partners. With this behavior on television with easy access to teenagers, they begin to think that pre-marital sex is typical in our society. “As children become adolescents they also venture into the world of MTV and music videos where 75% of the videos contain sexual imagery and 80% of the videos contain a combination of both sex and violence that could be linking the two together in the minds of teenagers” ((Bogt, Engels, Bogers, Kloosterman, 2010). Adolescents begin to become more independent from their parents and go elsewhere for answers about questions pertaining to sex; it has been found that many teenagers claim television to have answers. Overall, television exerts a powerful influence on teenagers’ sexual attitudes, values, and beliefs. It seems like in our society today, sex is what sells. Sexuality has been increasing on television throughout the years due mainly to TV competition. Not only are the major networks competing with each other but they are competing with cable which tends to be more sexually explicit. The focus is usually on reality based shows such as hour long dramas, reality shows, talk shows or soap operas which tend to portray the lives of other people. Soap operas are a perfect example of how the portrayal of sex can often be misconstrued in our society. In these type of dramas the divorce rate for the characters is close to 100% with people often marrying and having sex with more than three people on the show. The message regarding sex is primarily that for sex to be romantic it has to be spontaneous and that sex can transform lonely, empty lives into pure happiness. On soap operas alone teenagers are more likely to hear about abortion than contraception. Even adults who continuously watch soap operas tend to confuse reality and fiction and tend to believe that the soap opera way of life is almost exact to the American way of life. The fact of the matter is that soap operas are only aired during the day and they are on almost every major cable channel from the approximate time of 11am to 4pm. With many children home during the days or home alone after school it is very easy for them to be exposed to such shows filled with sex and other adult matters. Also, parents who regularly watch soap operas may have the television tuned to that channel while the children are in the room thus exposing them to the soap opera without even meaning too (Collins, 2004). Another example of sex filled television that is aired during daytime hours is talk shows such as Jerry Springer and Maury Povich which tend to focus sex outside of marriage, homosexual sex, promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, and adultery. These shows are even more detrimental to society than soap opera’s because these are actual real people who are displaying these acts. With so many stations broadcasting over the television and into homes across the world it is hard to dismiss the fact that most of the material on television is crossing the line of appropriateness. New television shows that catch people’s attention and gain greater viewer acceptance are popular because of their lewd and obscene topics. So many shows base their topics on scandal such as sex, extramarital sex, and premarital sex. The reality based shows are shows such as the Bachelor and Bachelorette, Real Housewives, Survivor, Jersey Shore, The Hills, and Toddlers and Tiaras. Many of these reality based shows present some type of sexuality throughout them. Toddlers and Tiaras is a show based on little girls in beauty pageants, however many believe that it is expressing to little girls that the only way to be beautiful is to have a fake tan, fake hair and a lot of makeup. All of these shows which are currently on television are mainly focused on sex. Not only are these shows embedded with sexual innuendoes but they deal with real people in real situations. With so many shows like these, society is only being taught that this kind of behavior is the norm for today’s generations. While much of the sex that is on television is on fictional shows, there are instances of reality where sex is talked about either on the news or on news like shows such as Dateline or 60 Minutes. These shows often like to examine the American politics, government, and prestigious individuals. In the 1990’s, the Clinton scandal is a perfect example of how sex was brought onto television in a reality setting. One of the most respected people in our country was caught in an extramarital affair and broadcast over the television for the whole country to see. Not only was the affair announced but the explicit details of the affair were publicized. The astonishing fact was that most people in the United States didn’t think of the affair as that big of a deal and thought that the media was exaggerating the entire situation. Another more recent example of this reality sex on television is the situation with John Edwards. John Edwards was also involved with another woman outside of his marriage and in this case he got her pregnant. With so much emphasis on political figures in the news, people in our nation cannot help but think that this type of behavior is acceptable since individuals with such high authority do it without punishment. This excess of sex on television, it would seem standard or at the very least responsible to display the same amount of attention on contraception use and the consequences of not using adequate protection during intercourse to protect from sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. That may be the main point of the reality show, Teen Mom. It shows the lives of girls that get pregnant as teenagers. It shows how hard they have to work and how it changes their lives, however, it still makes teenage pregnancy seem like a natural part of life. Many people feel that the subject of contraception isn’t an appropriate topic for television because it puts the ideas of sex into impressionable minds. According to the statistics mentioned earlier, American society needs to reevaluate their thoughts on sex and contraception on television. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America conducted a study on the attitudes about sex, television, and contraception and produced a variety of surveys on how the American public views the topic of sex on television. The study found that “64% of American adults believe that watching television encourages teenagers to be sexually active and that 83% of Americans believe that television exaggerates the importance of sex in American life.” (Martino, Collins, Elliot, Kanouse, & Berry, 2009). With so many people realizing the influence of sex on television, the study also found that 72% of Americans say they would not be offended by contraceptive advertising on television and 82% believe that contraceptive advertising on television would encourage more teenagers to use contraceptives. (Martino, Collins, Elliot, Kanouse, & Berry, 2009). With such a favorable view on how contraceptives should be advertised on TV, the question remains of why there is still only a limited amount of advertising for contraceptives and the consequences of absent contraceptive use. With television playing such an enormous role in our society it is hard to tell whether television is having an effect on viewers or whether people are able to establish the line between reality and the television world. There are arguments and supportive data to each side of the argument. Television at times can provide educational, appropriate entertainment to society that can help to build positive moral values. On the other hand, incidents occur on television which can cause harm to children, teenagers, and adults and effect society as a whole. To be an effective socialization tool, television should be screened by adults and should contain a limited amount of sex during prime time hours. Although sex will never be completely taken off television it does need to be controlled so that younger generations don’t grow up thinking that what is on television is the reality of the real world. It is the parent’s job to limit sexual exposure to children and teenagers through television and to communicate with their children about sex. Adults also need to realize that too much corrupt television viewing can be damaging to their social perspectives.
Television was invented as a tool for people to communicate with others. The thought of being able to send an image through a wire to another location held endless possibilities for the technological world. Now, educational paths have been plowed by entertainment monopolies in the search for higher ratings and more viewers. Unfortunately, if society continues to respond to the sex on television, cable and broadcasting stations are only going to continue to provide sexual scenarios on programs. Based on studies alone, it is hard to dismiss the numbers that conclude how harmful television sex really is. Our children are finding out earlier and earlier about sexual anatomy, sexual violence, and sexual intercourse. Along with children, adults are rearranging their morals and values to what they see on television and what TV has advertised as right and wrong. Throughout the years, society has become desensitized to sexual content on television and if the television industry continues on the same path, in another ten years educational programs will be eliminated completely and sex and violence will reign as the capacity of television.

Bleakley, A., Hennessy, M., & Fishbein, M. (2011). A Model of Adolescents' Seeking of Sexual Content in Their Media Choices. Journal Of Sex Research, 48(4), 309-315. doi:10.1080/00224499.2010.497985

Bogt, T., Engels, R., Bogers, S., & Kloosterman, M. (2010). 'Shake It Baby, Shake It': Media Preferences, Sexual Attitudes and Gender Stereotypes Among Adolescents. Sex Roles, 63(11/12), 844-859. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9815-1

Collins, R. (2004). Watching Sex on Television Predicts Adolescent Initiation of Sexual Behavior. Pediatrics, 114(3), e280. doi:10.1542/peds.2003-1065-L

Kunkel, D., Cope, K. M., Farinola, W., Biely, E., Rollin, E., Donnerstein, E., & Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, M. A. (1999). Sex on TV: A Biennial Report to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Executive Summary

Martino, S. C., Collins, R. L., Elliott, M. N., Kanouse, D. E., & Berry, S. H. (2009). It's Better on TV: Does Television Set Teenagers Up for Regret Following Sexual Initiation?. Perspectives On Sexual & Reproductive Health, 41(2), 92-100. doi:10.1363/4109209

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