ABC's Stossel Sees No Evil in Sexually 'Liberated' Culture

ABC's resident libertarian, John Stossel, acknowledges that our culture is sex-saturated, but he denies that sexual liberalism is harmful to society.

 “Sex today seems to be everywhere,” asserts Stossel in an article posted on ABC's Web site.  However, in  “Sex Sells, but at What Cost?” Stossel suggests that our pervasively sexualized society poses minimal danger to adolescents.

Stossel quotes sociologist and sex therapist Marty Klein, author of America's War on Sex:  “There are groups of people out there who are devoted to scaring the heck out of Americans about sexuality.”  He paraphrases Klein: “And Klein adds the dire predictions of anti-sex crusaders have not happened, and that despite all the increased sex in America, most of the news is good.”

Stossel lists statistics that “prove Klein has a point.”  He writes, “Over the past decade the rape rate has dropped, as has the birthrate among teen girls.  And this happened, as not just the media but as the world around us seemed to be coarser.”

The ABC host does quote Peter Sprigg, Vice President for Policy at the Family Research Council:

“I see the harm in the rise of sexually transmitted diseases,” said Sprigg. “I see the harm in the increase in out of wedlock pregnancies and births. We see the harm in the increase in single-parent households. All of these things have significant harm for the country.”

Stossel, however, provides none of the data that supports Sprigg's arguments.  A plethora of evidence exists that Stossel should have cited. 

For example, a newly released study of girls aged 10 to 14 by the Mental Health Foundation in the U.K. reports that premature sexualization is contributing to “serious mental health problems,” including anxiety, anger and unhappiness.  A stunning 40 percent of the girls reported that they knew somebody who had “self-harmed.” 

Another new British study, from the Health Protection Agency, points a finger directly at promiscuity.  The report finds that casual sex, now commonplace among young Britons, is fueling an explosion in sexually transmitted infections.  According to the report, half of the U.K.'s STI cases are found among 16- to 24-year-olds, who comprise just 12 percent of the population.

On this side of the pond, attorney, political analyst, and commentator Carol Platt Liebau has devoted an entire book to proving with numerous studies the detrimental effect our sex-saturated culture has on girls.  It's called Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (And America, Too!)

Liebau writes, “In two different studies, more frequent exposure to sex-oriented prime-time programming and talk shows was associated with stronger support for recreational sex among both teens aged fourteen through eighteen and young women eighteen through twenty.  Young people in general tend to be more permissive about pre-, extra-, or non-marital sex when they had been exposed to such behavior on television.”

Liebau cites another study showing that “teens who saw the most sex on television were found to be twice as likely to begin having sexual intercourse (or progressing to more advanced levels of sexual activity) within the next year as those who saw the least.”

Turning to the Culture and Media Institute's own publications, CMI research assistant Colleen Raezler revealed in her study, “Listen to those Lyrics,” the detrimental effect sexually-charged lyrics have on teens' sexual behavior.  Raezler reported that a “2006 study published in Pediatrics found that adolescents who listen to music with degrading sexual lyrics were more likely to initiate sexual intercourse and engage in sexual behavior.”

Stossel asserts that the birthrate among teenagers has dropped over the past decade, but failed to include the fact that the trend seems to have reversed.  According to a recent study by the National Institutes of Health, teen pregnancy rates just reached a 15-year high ( article).  As well, almost half (46 percent) of teens are having sex, a number that has remained stable for the past few years.  With so many kids having sex, is it little wonder that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 4 teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease?

“Sex Sells” is one in a series of articles about sex currently posted on ABC's Web site.  Stossel is coauthor of two other articles.  In “When Sex Is Not as Private as You Expect,” co-written with Patrick McMenamin, Stossel takes a shot at states that regulate obscene public exposure, provocative dancing in bars, and the sale of sex toys. 

In an article cowritten with Andrew Sullivan, “Lifting the Veil on Polygamy,” Stossel takes a sympathetic look at men with multiple wives.  Pointing out that only half of American polygamists are associated with Mormon sects, Stossel interviews several polygamists who say they live happy and rewarding lives, including a group of “Jews” and a group of “evangelical Christians.”  Stossel even cites a University of Georgia professor Patricia Dixon who claims women benefit from polygamous relationships: “It's female-centered. . . . The women are the ones who are benefiting when they're in a [polygamous] situation.  It's not about another notch on your belt or anything like that.  It really is the women who really promote this idea.”

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.  Julia Seward is an intern at CMI.