TV is getting steamier

Study says sexual content nearly doubled in 7 years


Racy talk, passionate kissing and images of sex are increasingly steaming up the nation's TV screens, according to a study released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The survey found the number of televised scenes with sexual content has nearly doubled in the past seven years, from about 1,900 in 1998 to nearly 3,800 this year.

During prime time, nearly four out of five shows on the major broadcast networks included sexual content in the 2004-2005 season. The figures were derived from a sample of cable and broadcast TV.

The trend has continued despite recent concerns among government officials and TV watchdog groups about broadcast indecency.

Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat speaking at a Washington forum to release the Kaiser study, said that as television transitions to digital technology, the industry should give parents a greater ability to block programming and more information about shows, particularly an improved rating system.

"But if the industry fails to act - if it fails to give parents advanced controls and new choices - Congress will," Obama said.

The Kaiser study found the number of televised references to "safer sex" - condoms or talk about abstinence or the consequences of unprotected sex - also increased since 1998, but has recently leveled off.

"More and more Hollywood writers have incorporated health messages into their programming, but the potential is there to do much more," said Vicky Rideout, the Kaiser foundation vice president who oversaw the study.

Researchers examined more than 1,100 programs shown during one week on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, the WB, PBS, Lifetime, TNT, USA and HBO. The study, which excluded news, sports and children's programming, defined sexual content as talk about sex or depiction of sexual behavior ranging from kissing to intercourse.

The study found that 70 percent of all shows include some sexual content, and those shows average five scenes every hour with such content. That's up from more than three scenes per hour seven years ago.

While overall sexual content increased, the number of shows in which sexual intercourse was depicted or implied fell to 11 percent from 14 percent in 2002.

The Kaiser foundation, a private group that studies health care issues, found that movies had the most sexual content - 92 percent - followed by sitcoms, dramas, soap operas, newsmagazines and talk shows. Reality programming, including game shows, documentaries and programs such as American Idol, had the least, at 28 percent.

David Ho writes for Cox News Service.

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