Watchdog Group Finds Teen Sex on TV Is Out of Control

Cory Monteith and Lea Michele of 'Glee' (Photo: Fox)

Cory Monteith and Lea Michele of 'Glee' (Photo: Fox)

We all know prime-time TV traffics in sexual content, but you might be surprised at how much of prime-time’s sexual scenes involve characters who are underage – particularly girls.

And that’s just on the broadcast networks. The L.A.-based watchdog group, the Parents Television Council, just issued a study of underage sex in prime-time and apparently found so much material to deal with just on CBS, ABC, Fox, NBC and CW, that it didn’t even include cable in the study (though it might study cable in the near future, the L.A. Times reported).

So what did the study find? It found that in the network TV shows that are most popular among teens age 12-17, sex plays a huge part. And rather than being portrayed as an activity engaged in by just a few, sex is depicted as something teens – especially teen girls – are not at all reluctant to have.

“Out of all the sexualized scenes depicting underage or young adult female characters, 86 percent of those female characters were presented as only being of high school age,” the study says. The PTC studied the top 25 Nielsen-ranked shows among the 12-17 age group and found that “only 5 percent of underage female characters” expressed any “dislike” for having sex.

The PTC found the results particularly troubling because of the scarcity of “S” ratings (the ones that denote “Sexual Content”) on the shows it studied, which means that a TV’s built-in V-chip – which is supposed to detect S ratings – is of little help to parents relying on the chip to help them control what their kids watch.

What are the offending shows? This is a little harder to determine since the PTC’s report provides few specifics on which shows are the worst offenders. The study does list some of the shows that were analyzed, including some that are obviously aimed at younger people: “Vampire Diaries” and “Glee,” for example – and some that you might not have realized rate highly among those age 12-17, including “NCIS,” “The Office,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives” and others. CW’s “Gossip Girl” was not included in the study because it’s not a top-25 show in the 12-17 age group.

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In a statement, PTC President Tim Winter really let the networks have it.

“Storylines on the most popular shows among teens are sending the message to our daughters that being sexualized isn’t just acceptable, it should be sought after,” he said. “It is outrageous that TV executives have made it their business to profit off of programs that depict teen girls blissfully being sexualized by casual partners and only showing disapproval for being sexualized 5 percent of the time. The TV networks really stick it to families by leaving off the ‘S’ descriptor to warn them about this type of sexual content a shocking 75 percent of the time.”

You think he’s angry now? Wait ’til the PTC studies cable – particularly MTV – then he’ll really have steam coming out of his ears.

The question of how much TV influences kids – whether inciting them to have sex or to commit violence – has been debated practically since TV began, flaring up again every couple of years. And yet, here we are near the end of 2010 and a new study reveals the situation, at least where sexual content is concerned, is as bad as ever, if not worse.

Where do you stand on this issue? Is the PTC right to scold the networks for their irresponsibility in this regard? Or does the responsibility for monitoring what kids watch still rest solely on parents?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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