Sexually explicit media impacts children

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Released: July 26, 2001 - - 9:30 a.m (EST)
Washington, D.C.— The media play an important role in the decision to initiate sexual activity by adolescents in the United States, explained Michael Rich, M.D., MPH, FAAP at a Capitol Hill roundtable discussion today on the impact of sexually explicit entertainment on children.
"Early sexual intercourse and risky sexual behavior among our young people is a concern of pediatricians and a major public health problem in America today," said Dr. Rich while representing the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) at the forum sponsored by Sens. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT).
According to the most recent data, 61% of all high school seniors have had sexual intercourse, about half are currently sexually active, and 21% have had 4 or more partners. Although other developed countries have similar rates of early sexual intercourse, the United States has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world and the highest adolescent STD rates.
"Young people tell me that the media is one of their leading sources of information about sex," continued Dr. Rich, who is a member of the AAP Committee on Public Education. "Each year television and movies offer 14,000 sexual portrayals, of which only 165 deal with risks of pregnancy, HIV or other STDs. It seems unrealistic that society should place the sole blame on our young people for engaging in early and unsafe sex when they have so much exposure to irresponsible sexual messages and portrayals in media."
Dr. Rich testified that in the absence of effective, comprehensive sex education at home or in the schools, television and other media have become the leading sex educators of children and adolescents today. Teens rank the media second only to school sex education programs as a leading source of information about sex. Alarmingly, in film, television, and music, sexual messages are becoming more explicit in dialogue, lyrics, and behavior.
According to recommendations released by the Academy this year, titled "Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media," although early sexual activity may be caused by a variety of factors, the media are believed to play a significant role. At the same time, the media are also the influence that can be most easily changed to send responsible messages to young people about sex. In particular, broadcast media should provide messages that encourage the delay of sexual intercourse and support safer, more respectful sexual behavior.
The AAP recommendations present guidelines for how pediatricians can address the effects of the media on sexual attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to their adolescent patients. A copy of the guidelines are available online at
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