Forget Marriage: Adultery and Promiscuity Rule the Airwaves

Prime time television is positively full of sex, as long as it is outside the context of marriage.  That is the primary finding of a new report from the Parents Television Council (PTC).

The report, “Happily Never After: How Hollywood Favors Adultery and Promiscuity over Marital Intimacy on Prime Time Broadcast Television” documents that when it comes to sex, broadcast networks are marginalizing marriage while glorifying non-marital intimacy.  Further, behaviors that were once taboo-for-TV are now found all across the broadcast networks and often during the Family Hour, when more children are in the viewing audience.

PTC analysts reviewed 207.5 hours of prime time broadcast programming on five networks during a four-week period in the fall of 2007.  The analysis found that verbal references to non-marital sex outnumbered references to sex in the context of marriage by nearly 3 to 1, and scenes depicting or implying sex between non-married partners outnumbered similar scenes between married couples by a ratio of nearly 4 to 1. 

Additionally, sexual behaviors that are now found on prime time television include threesomes, partner swapping, pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, and sex with prostitutes, in addition to depictions of strippers, references to masturbation, pornography, sex toys, and kinky or fetishistic behaviors.

In a press release PTC President Tim Winter said, “These study results suggest that many in Hollywood are actively seeking to undermine marriage by consistently showing it in a negative manner. Even more troubling than the marginalization of marriage and glorification of non-marital sex on television is TV's recent obsession with outré sexual expression. Children and teens are now exposed to a host of sexual behaviors that less than a generation ago would have been considered off-limits for broadcast television.

“Behaviors that were once seen as fringe, immoral, or socially destructive have been given the stamp of approval by the television industry. And recent studies show that children are influenced by those messages. Throughout much of the history of broadcast television, the networks adhered to a voluntary code of conduct which stipulated that respect should be maintained for the sanctity of marriage and the value of the home. Our report finds that not only are the boundaries no longer respected – they have been obliterated,” Winter continued.

There are many disturbing findings in the report, but two that stand out are:

·    The Family Hour (8:00 – 9:00 p.m. at which time more children are in the viewing audience) contained the highest frequency of references to non-married sex. Family Hour references to non-marital sex outnumbered references to sex in marriage by a ratio of 3.9 to 1. During the 9:00 pm and 10:00 pm hours, the references to non-marital versus marital sex averaged 2.5 to 1.

·    Most programs either lacked or had inadequate content descriptors, which are intended to alert parents to inappropriate content and work in conjunction with the V-Chip to block content that parents may find unsuitable for their children. For example, on ABC, 38 percent of programs airing during the Family Hour that contained sexual content did not receive the “S” descriptor and during the 9:00 pm hour, 71 percent of programs containing sexual dialogue did not carry a “D” descriptor. Every network had problems with the consistent application of “S” and/or “D” descriptors during every time slot.

The full report (click here) also contains important information about media influence on the behavior of children.  Among the most interesting references:

·        As far back as 1996 children have reported that the media encourage them to have sex.

·        89 percent of American parents believe the media contribute to children engaging in sexual activity at earlier ages.

·        A 2006 study by the University of North Carolina shows a link between sexually-charged media and earlier sexual activity among teens.

·        Researchers have found that teens exposed to high levels of sex in the media are likely to become sexually active earlier in life and were 2.2 times more likely to have had intercourse between the ages of 14 and 16.

·        There is a positive correlation between early sexual activity and depression and attempted suicide.

The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that children will have seen 58,400 scenes of sexual content on television by the time they reach age 8.  Given that the predominant portrayal of sex on broadcast television is extra-marital it's not too hard to deduce what opinions children will be forming about sex and marriage by watching the tube.  Parents should be alarmed.  Hollywood should be ashamed.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.