As the World Turns

Reports that the role of sex on television has become more prevalent and explicit in the past thirteen years, and that society mirrors the drama of television. Comparisons of sexual behaviors now and in 1979; Television promoting casual sex; Documentation of television's promiscuity by professor Barry S. Sapolsky--sex talk, homosexuality, safe sex; Effects on adolescent minds; More.

By PT Staff, published on September 1, 1992 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

In a world mirrored so closely by the drama and comedy of TV, it's not surprising that sex plays a leading role on the tube. But the part's grown bigger-and more explicit-over the past 13 years.

Every four minutes today, TV characters talk about sex or display sexual behavior-compared to every five minutes in 1979. And while sex practices in real life have proved to have dramatic consequences over that time, TV has yet to devote prime time to safe-sex practices.

TV has no problem promoting casual sex, but does have a problem promoting responsibility," especially in a time when AIDS and teen pregnancy is soaring, reports Barry S. Sapolsky, Ph.D., In the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media (Vol. 35, No. 4).

Documenting TV's promiscuity, the professor at Florida State University compared the sexual content of one week's prime-time network TV In 1989 with the same in 1979. Here's what he found:

o SEX TALK: TV gave viewers l6 instances of sexual imagery or language in 1989, versus 13 In 1979-explicit references to sexual behavior and sexual organs.

o THE WILD THANG: Nowhere to be seen in 1979, four explicit sex acts steamed the set in 1989.

o YOU FIRST Equality in the bed. room is on the wane. In 1989, male characters initiated two thirds of the sexual behavior and conversation, and three-fourths of the noncriminal sex acts. In 1979, men and women shared the responsibility tit-for-tat.

o WEDDING BANDS: Married couples don't have sex anymore, at least on TV. In 1989 and 1979, only unmarried couples had implied or explicit intercourse. By 1989, married couples didn't even talk about It: spouses mentioned sex only once while singles discussed it 90 times Says Sapolsky, "I don't think you can go back to a time when a majority are virginal before getting married."

o HOMOSEXUALITY Twenty percent of Americans may be gay, but not on TV. In 1989, depictions of and references to homosexuality occurred only once in three hours.

o SAFE SEX: Just as infrequent are television discussions about safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases. There was not a single mention of AIDS in 1989 shows.

The Images add up. Says Sapolsky: "If an adolescent watches years of TV where people engage in flirtatious or explicit behavior, these thousands of Images over the years will teach them that sex is pleasant--and without any consequences."

Photo: Scene from Beverly Hills 90210.