Today, Pediatrics (the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) published a study by Anita Chandra that links teen pregnancy to sex on TV shows such as Sex and the City, Friends, and That 70s Show. Chandra tracked 2,000 12-17 year olds over the course of three years and found that those who watched sex on TV shows were twice as likely to be pregnant. Now, I must admit, that I really want to read the actual study before making conclusions, but it looks like I can’t get it through the GW online library, so this is based on my newspaper findings. I’m going to try to actually find this thing though, so I can look at the actual findings (if anyone out there can get it, please send it!). Here are all the reasons I am skeptical.
I take issue with the shows that were selected. First of all, Sex and the City is clearly not a television show that was meant for children to view. It has always been rated TV-MA. So, I think we can assume there are other problems if kids are watching SATC. Second, all of the shows selected might show that sex is fun and they mostly focus on sex between adults (That 70s Show being the exception). There have been plenty of TV shows out there that show the consequences of teen sex (I’ll cite Gilmore Girls, where Rory’s loss of virginity with her married ex-boyfriend was a mess and poor Lane got pregnant on her first time having sex, which, incidentally, was with her husband!). How would the results have changed if shows like those were included? What about the fact that teen shows tend to favor sex in loving relationships? The tried and true formula for teenage couples is that they only have good sex when they are in love. Otherwise, disaster ensues. For your consideration:
Dan Humphrey and Serena van der Woodsen (Gossip Girl). Dan and Serena have sex for the first time after they have fallen in love and Serena makes a special Christmas present for Dan. Dan, our sweet, sensitive guy is losing his virginity and it is strong implied that this is the first time that Serena has ever had sex that mattered.
Blair Waldorf and Nate Archibald (Gossip Girl). Blair saved herself for her first love for years before they had sex. Though Blair lost her virginity to Chuck, her tryst with Nate is depicted as the first special sex she has. Chuck was a mistake until….
Blair Waldorf and Chuck Bass (Gossip Girl). Blair and Chuck fall in love. They no longer sleep with each other, but instead are holding off until they can feel comfortable exchanging “I Love You’s.”
Chuck Bass and Poor Victim Girls (Gossip Girl). At the beginning of Gossip Girl, Chuck Bass tries to force himself on Serena and on Little J. Serena kicks his ass. Dan punches him for trying to force himself on his sister, and Little J gets revenge by locking Chuck naked on a roof. It is clear, sex should be consentual and in a loving relationship.
Seth Cohen and Summer Roberts (The OC). When Seth Cohen and Summer lost their virginity to each other, they agreed to slow down and save sex until it meant something. In the end, I don’t think Seth and Summer ever even slept with someone else since they got married!
Ryan Atwood and Marissa Cooper (The OC) Even the “bad boy” outsider Ryan and the “bad” overprivileged girl Marissa waited until they were in love and waited many YEARS (like season 3!) to sleep together. When Marissa lost her virginity to someone she didn’t love (Luke, oh silly, Luke), it went badly.
Angela Chase and Jordan Catalano (My So-Called Life). Angela decided she could not have sex with Jordan despite the fact that he looked really hot playing guitar and leaning on things, because she was not ready. She was celebrated for this choice.
Joey Potter and Pacey Witter (Dawson’s Creek). Joey and Pacey slept together once they were in love and on a ski trip. After declaring they were in love, Joey took the condom from Pacey and told him “I want to throw the wrapper away).
Joey Potter and Dawson Leery (Dawson’s Creek). Joey and Dawson waited almost 20 years to sleep together! They were well into college before it happened and then it was a VERY big deal because of all the emotions involved!
Felicity and Noel (Felicity). Felicity and Noel never actually sleep together, but only because their attempt to have sex during season 1 was such a disaster because they tried to force it instead of waiting until sex would have been a natural part of their relationship.
Felicity and Ben (Felicity). Felicity and Ben (oh Ben…) don’t sleep together until they have gotten together, broken up, gotten back together, and fallen in love. It is, of course, perfect when it happens!
Buffy and Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). After being mortal enemies, Buffy and Spike start sleeping together and it is literally depicted as an S&M relationship. They tear down and house and bruise each other. Buffy beats herself up for it. This relationship is a total disaster until Spike gets a soul so he and Buffy can finally fall in love. Of course, then he has to go sacrifice himself to save the world, killing that shot at happiness.
Willow and Tara (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Ah, the only gay couple to make the list. It is always implied that Willow and Tara have a deep emotional connection and therefore, they have literally magical sex.
Willow and Oz (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). These two fall deeply in love and have very sweet, very safe sex.
Lindsay Weir and Nick Andopolis (Freaks and Geeks). Despite the fact that Nick spoke-sang Lindsay a bitchin’ version of “Lady” and then just wanted to cuddle, these two never got it on. Why? Lindsay was weirded out by the idea of sex and the fact that she didn’t love Nick the way he loved her.
Daniel Desario and Kim Kelly (Freaks and Geeks). So these two are freaks, which naturally means they get it on a lot, but they also have a very strong, if not very troubled love. Daniel and Kim help each other deal with their dysfunctional families and for them, it always seems like that love helps them conquer many things (though not all, because no one can ever be perfectly happy on Freaks and Geeks!)
Veronica Mars (Veronica Mars). Poor, poor Veronica Mars loses her virginity when she is rufied and raped. Again, it is clear sexual assault is bad. Veronica does manage to have good sex when she falls in love with Duncan in season two though.
Rory and Jess (Gilmore Girls). Rory and Jess never have sex, despite the fact that Rory expresses an interest in losing her virginity to Jess. Rory and Jess also have all kinds of issues emotionally opening up to each other and saying things like “I love you.” Concidence? I think not.
And one more, bonus blast from the past, Bailey and Sarah (Party of Five). Those two waited forever! I don’t remember a ton about this show, but I remember that. Also, I remember that Julia had a pregnancy scare (see, sex, never a good idea for teens), but thankfully, miscarried it. And then everyone got cancer and alcoholism, and really, that’s a whole other blog post.
Nuts right? Look at all that loving, committed teen sex. And those consequences of deviating from that (and I didn’t even get into The Secret Life of the American Teenager, which I haven’t watched, but is all about a girl getting knocked up her first time). Ok, now that my love for teen TV is painfully obvious, and it’s clear sex on teen TV is all about love, here are some other issues I have with this study. It seems like there is not any information about the association between TV and teen pregnancy. From what I can tell, there is no evidence that TV leads to teen pregnancy and not the other way around. What about other factors? This study was conducted between 2002-2004. Sure sexy TV has been popular in that time, but you know what else has been super popular, ABSTINENCE ONLY sex education? How is it that NO article managed to mention this fact?!?!?! Might the fact that teens haven’t learned as much about contraception actually be responsible for this increase in teen pregnancy? Call me crazy, but I think that’s pretty likely! What about the role of parents? What kinds of houses do these kids live in? Is it possible that they see more TV because they do not have the resources to access more productive/positive activities? In all of the articles I have read, I also have not read that the difference Chandra found is statistically significant. Perhaps that’s in the Pediatrics article, but I need to see some of that information. Ultimately, I feel that there a number of complicated reasons that teen pregnancy has increased and blaming adult sex on TV is a poor scapegoat. In reality, many factors contribute to teen pregnancy and teen TV, even the most irresponsible teen TV (ahem, Gossip Girl), tends to show that sex is best when it takes place in loving, committed relationships. Let’s just look at the full picture before we all freak out. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch tonight’s Gossip Girl!