Amplified sexuality on TV misguides teens

by Stacey Oparnica

Seductive. Risqué. Tantalizing. With tongues hanging out, Americans love — no, we worship — anything and everything that even suggests sex appeal. From dramatic television shows to Hollywood movies, entertainment media is always one step ahead in exceeding our demands for the next steamy fix. This certainly explains why the number of sexual scenes on television has skyrocketed, practically doubling since 1998. Two words: sex sells. But hey, we’re all adults here, right? So what’s the big deal if we’re seeing a little more skin in our Netflix queues?

Well, it depends on who’s watching. According to Teen Health and the Media, the average American teen spends roughly 20 hours a week watching TV, amounting to almost 100 hours of television in one month. That’s a lot of “Jersey Shore,” “Gossip Girl” and “90210.” Additionally, from the top 20 shows teenagers view the most, 70 percent contained some kind of sexual content, with 45 percent showing sexual behavior.

Before you start rolling your eyes, allow me to clear the air by saying I have no intention of falsely generalizing all teenagers as vulnerable, inexperienced little lambs. But ask yourself this question: What were you like when you were 15? Can you honestly say you were never influenced to behave, speak or dress a certain way because of something you saw on television? I doubt it. In fact, roughly three out of four teens aged 15 to 17 years old believe sex related scenes or images on TV influence the actions of their peers “somewhat” (40 percent) or “a lot” (32 percent), according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

You should be concerned for several reasons. First, if teens are influenced by what they see, what can we expect them to be persuaded to do or think after watching the glorifications of causal sex, one-night stands and promiscuity that’s so frequent on TV these days? Secondly, with the bombardment of sexually irresponsible messages teens habitually absorb through the media, are we doing a sufficient job in educating them on the not-so-sexy realities of casual promiscuity? It doesn’t seem likely.

When teenagers 15 to17 years old were asked where they usually acquire information about birth control and other preventive care, the most common answer was from “friends” (66 percent), according to KFF. Considering the results of another study that roughly a quarter of all surveyed teens didn’t know oral contraceptives don’t protect against STDs, I’d rule out friends as a reliable source. Following in second place was product advertisement, with mothers, magazine articles and TV shows trailing behind. Basically, misinformed pals, magazines and TV shows trumped expert health care providers — which came in at number 7 — as a valid source of information on preventive methods.

After everything we’ve reviewed, do I even have to explain why this is so disturbing? Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop there. In addition to a seemingly endless laundry list of barriers preventing teens from acquiring legitimate sexual knowledge, it seems that parents these days are lagging in giving their children “the talk,” according to TIME magazine.

Basically, teens are being forced into the real world with only their misguided knowledge taken from their friends. What’s my advice to squeamish moms and dads who are too uncomfortable to initiate the talk? Get over it. At the risk of sounding like a recycled YMCA commercial, talking to kids about sex, including preventive methods and risks, at an early age is precisely the kind of information they need in order to make informed decisions.

While we cannot single-handedly control misleading media content, it’s the responsibility of the parents to explain to their children how the media’s portrayal of casual sex doesn’t always accurately portray the version many have regretted in real life.

The truth? Sex isn’t always about sexy lingerie and perfect spontaneity, nor is it always the carefree experience we’ve been brainwashed into anticipating — and everyone needs to acknowledge that. To parents and older siblings: Don’t rely on “Sex and the City” to guide your young loved ones. They’d rather hear it from you.

—Stacey Oparnica is a journalism sophomore.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.