The usual complaint about television content is about violence. There are many familiar arguments that have been made common by pundits on television, newspapers, and magazines. Violent images on television are said to promote violence among our youth, desensitize all age groups to death and human suffering, and the list goes on and on. What do the prevalent and explicit sexual images that parade across our television screens do to our society? Due to the fact that sex is an acceptable part of life, the graphic sexual images which invade our living rooms have not drawn as much attention as violence has. It is a much more serious and impactful problem which often goes unnoticed and unmentioned by members of society and activist organizations. Sex on television is so engrained in our culture that no one seems to be aware of the negative ramifications such programming has caused and continues to cause. Education by way of social programs and changes in public policy must be enacted to ensure that this bombardment of uncensored quasi-pornography is stopped. In our society there is nudity on network television, not only cable channels, and these images have caused a decline in society’s moral fiber. Even broadcast networks are exposing our children to scantily clad women, parading their nudity and sexuality around on the small screen. If we continue to ignore the problem of sexuality on television we will be faced with an increase in teenage pregnancy, STDs, rape, and incest.
Sexuality is an issue which should be explored when someone is at the right developmental stage psychologically. The mind must be emotionally mature in order to correctly interpret sexual actions and behaviors. The reason there are more teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases is because children are having sex before they are emotionally and intellectually prepared to deal with such an intense and important experience. In a recent study, the RAND Health Institute found the following conclusions:
Teens who watch a lot of television with sexual content are more likely to initiate intercourse within the following year. Television in which characters talk about sex affects teens just as much as television that actually shows sexual activity.
In the same study, it is reported that “Unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are more common among youth who begin sexual activity at earlier ages” (http://www.contenidos.com/files/141.pdf). Children and adolescents in Western society are not developmentally mature enough to engage in sexual behavior. While in some cultures children have sex as early as nine years old, they live in a different world than we do. They marry younger, take on family responsibilities younger, and therefore develop at a different rate than American youths do. However, even though it is the norm in some areas of India, Asia, and Africa to have sex and marry during early adolescence, I would still argue that it is too early to become sexually active at that age, regardless of the culture. Imagine then in this country…our children are ill equipped to deal with the emotional intensity and individual responsibility associated with sexual activity. When sexually active there are many things to take into consideration: safety, pregnancy, diseases and infections, love, respect, and many more. The typical adolescent is not responsible enough to do all their chores without being reminded. Adolescence is a transitional period of development when a child slowly evolves into being an adult. If constantly assailed with sexual images and sexual content they are being provoked to engage in sexual activity before they are ready. There are reasons why we have age minimums for voting, driving, and drinking alcoholic beverages. Young people are not emotionally ready to or equipped to deal with making important choices or indulging in potentially dangerous activities. The same holds true for sex. While we do have age restrictions on sexual activity, they are next to impossible to enforce. If we remove the images that children are accosted with every day, on every channel, in their very own homes, we can reduce the risky sexual behavior they are engaging in at younger and younger ages every year. When people encounter sex being treated so casually on the television it colors their perception of sex. That is why this casual protrayal of sex has led today’s youth to have a blatant disregard for the importance which should be attached to intimacy. Therefore their perceptions are directly affected by the casual and graphic treatment of sex on television, teaching children that sex is everywhere, easily accessible and not to be taken seriously. Our youth does not comprehend the external factors associated with sexual intimacy, such as love, marriage, long-term relationships, respect, and so on.
Exposing children also desensitizes them to the act of sex for money, violent sex, and rape. It becomes a commonplace experience to rape a date by drugging her. According to television programs it is not uncommon for men to go to strip clubs and frequent the use of prostitutes. Women are also highly affected by sex on television. Girls are taught that sex before marriage and sex between minors is not only condoned but encouraged, a mark of maturity.
Unfortunately, the reason behind this problem is simple…greed. The networks know that sex sells. It is obvious all over television, including the once somber news, that sensationalism captures the attention, and the ratings, of the entire nation. While there could be various reasons why sex on television equals higher ratings, there are no definitive answers. It could be captivating because it is taboo. It could be the lure of the unknown. It could be as simple as watching it because you know that you’re parents wouldn’t let you. What is behind the networks including sexual content in their programming however, is just simple ratings. The more sex they think, the more ratings, and the more ratings the more advertisers. The contribution to society’s moral decay and increased STDs and teenage pregnancy all boils down to money. The theory of Symbolic Interactionism states that humans act on the basis of personal meaning. By interacting with society humans develop meanings for people, situations, issues, etc. Their behavior is guided by these meanings that they derive from social interaction. By what people encounter in their daily lives, they modify and interpret these meanings, and use these interpretations to deal with what they encounter in life. The meaning of sex acts such as intercourse is distorted by the images shown on television. Young people do not realize that what they are witnessing on television is not usually representative of the actual thing in real life. Because of this distortion, they act out negative and premature behaviors which lead to illness and pregnancy. If looked at from a functionalist standpoint, we can see the not only the damage being done by exposing such intimacy on television, but also the actions that need to be taken to remedy the social problem. Functionalists believe that we as human beings require a social equilibrium. This equilibrium is achieved through a socialization of the members of society. Socialization occurs when we as members of society establish norms and values so that a consensus is achieved. An example of a socialized value or norm would be ‘murder is bad’. The rampant depiction of sex on television causes a failure in reaching a social norm. There is not enough reality in these images to establish a real example resulting in a norm that children can experience and understand, consequently adopting it as a social norm. This is where solutions come in to play. Functionalists believe in enacting social control mechanisms to restore conformity. This could be done in the way of enacting educational programs to teach about the realities of sex and laws against sexuality being shown on television in such an explicit manner. (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/functionalism/ ).
The only way to resolve this is by censoring the graphic and frequent displays of sex on television. Through Symbolic Interactionism our society has been affected by the social problem of sex on television and it needs to be resolved. Allocating such programs to late night programming would be a step in the right direction but not a complete solution. Television should be PG rated programming only. There needs to be a severe reformatting of television programming. While ideally it would be best to remove sexual content from television in its entirety, removing such programming to late night viewing only would have to be done first to accustom society to the major changes which will follow.
Another program which should be instilled is making mandatory sexual education programs for everyone from elementary school through high school. The content of the programs would be adjusted for each age level as the children would need to learn different aspect of sexual activity as they develop. Whether it be in school, church, or community centers, parents as well as civic leaders should be conscious that such educational programs are necessary to ensure that our youth behave responsibly. This type of education will help to prevent many of the social problems we as a society are dealing with today. Children educated about sex could make better decisions about life and when to engage in certain behaviors. It would help to make children understand what behavior is age appropriate and what behavior is not. Even if children do continue to engage in sexual behavior, albeit less, they will at least also be educated as to what they are getting into. They will understand the pitfalls involved and what they can do to avoid catching a venereal disease or getting pregnant or impregnating someone else.
These changes in public policy and social programs would deter future generations from becoming sexually active when they are too young. It is natural for children to be curious, especially in a society where sexuality is such a taboo subject that most parents do not even talk to their children about it. So, when visually accosted by sexual acts on television, they want to experiment and find out what it is the characters are doing and talking about. In countries where the subject of sex is not so prohibited there are less instances of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy. We must understand that the proposed changes will not affect our children for at least one generation, our children’s children. Most of the current youth have already had these images ingrained in their consciousness. The best thing we can do is educate themon the subject and explain the difference between the sex they see on television and the way intimacy works in real life.
Does watching sex on television influence children's sexual behavior? Retrieved June 15, 2008, from RAND Health Web site: http://www.contenidos.com/files/141.pdf
Levin, J (2004, August 24). Functionalism. Retrieved June 15, 2008, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Web site: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/functionalism/