Results. Multivariate regression analysis indicated that adolescents who viewed more sexual content at baseline were more likely to initiate intercourse and progress to more advanced noncoital sexual activities during the subsequent year, controlling for respondent characteristics that might otherwise explain these relationships. The size of the adjusted intercourse effect was such that youths in the 90th percentile of TV sex viewing had a predicted probability of intercourse initiation that was approximately double that of youths in the 10th percentile, for all ages studied. Exposure to TV that included only talk about sex was associated with the same risks as exposure to TV that depicted sexual behavior. African American youths who watched more depictions of sexual risks or safety were less likely to initiate intercourse in the subsequent year.
Conclusions. Watching sex on TV predicts and may hasten adolescent sexual initiation. Reducing the amount of sexual content in entertainment programming, reducing adolescent exposure to this content, or increasing references to and depictions of possible negative consequences of sexual activity could appreciably delay the initiation of coital and noncoital activities. Alternatively, parents may be able to reduce the effects of sexual content by watching TV with their teenaged children and discussing their own beliefs about sex and the behaviors portrayed. Pediatricians should encourage these family discussions.
We observed substantial associations between the amount of sexual content viewed by adolescents and advances in their sexual behavior during the subsequent year. Youths who viewed 1 SD more sexual content than average behaved sexually like youths who were 9 to 17 months older but watched average amounts of sex on TV. This effect is not insubstantial. Predicted probabilities showed that watching the highest levels of sexual content effectively doubled the next-year likelihood of initiating intercourse and greatly increased the probability of advancing 1 level in noncoital activity. In other words, after adjustment for other differences between high and low viewers of sexual content, 12-year-olds who watched the highest levels of this content among youths their age appeared much like youths 2 to 3 years older who watched the lowest levels of sexual content among their peers. The magnitude of these results are such that a moderate shift in the average sexual content of adolescent TV viewing could have substantial effects on sexual behavior at the population level.