Youth Culture Window

Promiscuous Programming Promotes Promiscuity 

Dynamic Image“On-screen promiscuity promotes promiscuity in real life.” (the journal Psychological Science)

Funny… most teenagers claim, “It doesn’t affect me.”

Sexual programming continues to grow at an alarming rate, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to decrease anytime soon. Sadly, that reality comes with regrettable consequences in the lives of young people.

But many kids even believe TV has crossed the line. That means there’s never been a better time to act.

An Increase in Inappropriateness
In August of 2012, a spike in nudity occurred on prime time television. Who knows the cause. Perhaps Andy Samberg’s consistent “blurred nudity” on SNL struck a chord with young people. Regardless, researchers compared this past season’s television programming (2011-2012) to the prior year’s shows (2010-2011) and found instances of full nudity increased by 407% during that timeframe. (For a glimpse of what they mean by “full nudity,” take a look at this YouTube clip that shows Ashton Kutcher’s first episode on Two and a Half Men.)

Among the study’s other findings were these sad realities:


  • 70% of the shows depicting full nudity aired before 9:00pm this year (in what was once known as “the family hour”), compared to 50% of last year’s programs.
  • Only 5 of the 76 instances of full nudity took place on shows that carried a rating of “S” (for “Sex”).
  • Bleeping and muting of the F-word increased from 11 instances in 2005 to 276 in 2010. That 2,409% increase in F-bombs brings back memories of Operation Rolling Thunder.

For a perfect example of how television networks have ratcheted up the risqué, we don’t need to look any further than MTV. Holland Roden, a cast member from MTV’s Teen Wolf, one of the network’s more successful scripted dramas, admitted during season one, “There’s a lot of nakedness. And we have a lot of sex. Yes, a lot of sex.” The official trailer for season two, which ended in August 2012, shows that the same racy recipe was used again. But, that was the game plan Executive Producer Jeff Davis had in mind all along.

There is some good news, however; the hyper-sexual show I Just Want My Pants Back was cancelled by MTV’s executives after the first season. But don’t think for a moment that MTV’s producers are cleaning up their act. Every decision is tied to the ratings.

And producers will do and say anything to keep their ratings.

Defending the Dirty
Earlier this year, CBS drew criticism for a “raunchy” line up of Monday night comedies. According to the Associated Press, in the span of one evening, sitcoms on CBS aired:


  • a visit to a strip club on How I Met Your Mother
  • jokes about masturbation, oral sex, and sex with moms on Two and a Half Men
  • a new neighbor on 2 Broke Girls who was thought to be running a brothel from her apartment.

Overall, that evening produced a total of 53 jokes of a sexual nature, and 2 scenes where “marijuana use was clearly implied.”

Of course, CBS President Nina Tassler took criticism for the comedies she admits are “a little risqué,” but ultimately defended them by saying, “The fact that there is such strong ratings growth for all of them means that those shows are resonating. It means that the characters are resonating. It means that their dialogue is really landing with audiences. The shows are laugh-out-loud funny.”

Well, as long as it’s funny….

In the same month, ABC drew the ire of an anti-profanity group when the plot of a Modern Familyepisode revolved around a 2-year-old’s apparent use of the F-word. In “Little Bo Bleep,” Lily confounds her gay parents Mitchell and Cameron by dropping the F-bomb prior to a wedding in which she’s the flower girl. (She actually said “fudge” but ABC pixilated her mouth and bleeped the word, signifying the use of the vulgarity.)

Again, the show was defended by executives. Steven Levitan, the sitcom’s creator, was “proud and excited” about the episode and said, “We thought it was a very natural story since, as parents, we’ve all been through this.”

Speaking of parents’ problems….

The Results of Risqué TV
It’s ironic that Levitan justified the show’s vulgar plotline by saying it’s something we all go through, when in reality, many families go through these kinds of struggles because of the influence of today’s television programming. But the pain goes far deeper than just the occasional expletive.

new study due in the journal Psychological Science laments the relationship between on-screen promiscuity and teenage sex in the real world. The more racy television a kid watches, the more likely it is for him or her to imitate it in real life. Dartmouth University’s Ross O’Hara and his team studies the movie watching patterns of about 1,200 young people ages 12-14, then analyzed their sexual behavior six years later. They found:

“Young teens who viewed movies with sexual content were profoundly influenced by what they watched. They initiated sexual behavior earlier than their peers who had viewed less sexual content, and they tended to imitate the on-screen sexual behaviors they saw — which included casual sex, having multiple partners and high-risk behaviors.”

But the impact of television and movies on teen sex and/or pregnancy is nothing new. For years, researchers have observed connections between racy TV and teen sexuality, for instance, The University of North Carolina’s study in 2006The RAND Corporation’s research from 2008, and Pediatrics’ report in 2010. This report contends, “The media represents arguably the leading sex educator in America Today.” According to Pediatrics’ 2010 research:

“Seventy percent of teen shows contain sexual content, Strasburger added, “and less than 10% of that content involves what anyone would classify as being responsible content. There’s no mention of contracting an STD (sexually transmitted disease) or the need to wait to have sex until later.”

Eventually, we’ll start listening, right?

Waiting for television producers to clean up their act is a waste of time. After all, they’re in the sales business, and sex sells. There’s not much parents can do to clean up TV, but there are several actions parents can take to at least clean up what’s watched in their homes.


  1. Monitor What Young People Watch. The absolute best way to do this is to watch TV and movies together (something I, Jonathan, suggested to parents just last week in my blog about “Deciding If Hunger Games is Appropriate”). Co-viewing with your teenagers gives you the chance to hear their take on what they’ve just seen, but it also provides you with the opportunity to weigh in on the truth. Nielsen claims that teenagers (12-17 year olds) watch 47% of their TV in their bedrooms, a practice the American Academy of Pediatrics warns us about. All this bedroom viewing means that almost half of the television content young people watch is unknown and unchecked. Don’t let that happen in your family. Know what they are watching so you can know how to respond.
  2. Use Media to Get Your Teenagers Talking. A very interesting study was released from New Zealand earlier this year in which young people (ages 15-21) were asked if they thought there was “too much sex, bad language, and violence on television.” Surprisingly, 51% of the young people thought there was. That means that more than half of young people believed TV had gone too far. Two things caught our attention about this study. First, adults asked real, practical questions to young people about TV. Second, they found some good news on which to build (if they so desired). Teenagers aren’t blind or stupid (regardless of where they’re from). They know exactly what they’re watching on television, even if they don’t know why they watch it or what effect it has on them. Ask your teenagers what they think about certain TV shows, and then plot an appropriate course of action based on their answers. Media is a great springboard to get your teenagers talking. You may be surprised at how similar their thoughts are to yours. But you won’t know unless you ask.
  3. Keep An Eye on Pop Culture. No, we’re not suggesting you go buy all of Lady Gaga’s CDs and begin watching Jersey Shore (please don’t). But it might be wise to keep current enough to know how to respond when your 13-year-old daughter asks if she can download a new song from Nicki Minaj. And if you hope to “reach the world with the good news about Jesus Christ, we must understand the changing cultural context in which lost people live.” (Walt Mueller) Keep your thumb on the pulse of youth culture. Subscribe to these Youth Culture Window articles and blogs that keep you current with the thoughts, trends and attitudes of young people today.

It’s crucial that we understand how influential television is in the lives of our kids. It’s just as important to understand what kind of influence television is. When we do, we realize that handing kids the remote control has just as many liabilities as handing them the car keys. We would never do the latter without lots of supervision. We shouldn’t do the former without lots of supervision, either.


By 0 Comments

Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

Reply your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*