Sex still sells and television knows it

November 07, 1994|By John J. O'Connor | John J. O'Connor,New York Times News Service

Even as the Helmsian hordes of the religious right thunderingly denounce pornography and licentiousness, even as the latest sex survey contends that Americans are not really very promiscuous, television pursues a scenario that might be titled "Sex Unplugged."

Television is hardly alone in battering once traditional taboos. Take, for instance, male frontal nudity. In the theater, this used to be limited to the artsy avant-garde or touchy-feely counterculture musicals like "Hair." But suddenly New York stage actors are casually strutting the boards not only giving but showing their all (e.g.: Terrence McNally's "Love! Valour! Compassion!").

As for television, cable viewers willing to stay up late can find documentaries that include sex-exploration classes in which, among other things, naked men are slathered head to toe with whipped cream. This is offered, incidentally, not by some impoverished public-access channel or drag panel show discussing the "cosmetically challenged," but by Home Box Office, owned by Time Warner, one of the world's largest media conglomerates.

These are, admittedly, the outer reaches in the current entertainment marketplace. But they are hardly aberrations. The long-established fact is that television is obsessed with sex, from the networks to cable, from prime time to the soaps, from music video to those hot commercials pushing products like perfume or jeans.

After the new sex survey concluded that most women think about sex only a few times a week, Entertainment Weekly did its own informal study and found: "In three hours of prime time chosen at random, viewers were prompted to think about sex 28 times. And that doesn't include commercials." An Entertainment Weekly factoid to ponder: "Prime time has one avowed adult virgin (Donna on 'Beverly Hills 90210')."

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