Thursday, July 14, 2005
How media affects adolescent sexual attitudes

By Dr. Anthony Policastro
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital

A special report in the July issue of the American Academy of Pediatrics is titled “Impact of the Media on Adolescent Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors.” The general conclusion of the article is that we do not always know what the impact is. We need to do more research to decide on that. However, the one thing the article did point out was the way adolescents are bombarded with messages about sex. The statistics are interesting. About 47 percent of high school students have had sexual intercourse. About 7.4 percent actually started before age 13. About 14 percent have been with four or more partners. On the surface those numbers appear high. The concern in the report was that the media suggest that the numbers are even higher. The message the media tends to give to teenagers is that everyone does it. In reality, it is less than 50 percent. Therefore, most high school students are not sexually active. That is different than the message from the media. For example, the average teenager spends three to four hours per day watching television. There are certain shows that teenagers tend to watch. In 83 percent of those shows there is some sexual content. The frequency of sex scenes in those shows is 6.7 scenes per hour. About 20 percent of those scenes suggest either directly or indirectly that a couple is engaging in sexual activity. This is one of the areas that we do know the impact. There are two effects of this. One is that adolescents think, “Everyone is doing it.” The other is that they tend to think it is the thing to do to be normal. More than two-thirds of movies are R-rated. In many of these movies, there is sexual content. Of major concern is that the most common content is sex between unmarried partners. Of more concern is that 30 percent of sexually active adolescents watch X-rated movies. There are known effects associated with this. These adolescents tend to have more sexual partners. This group tends to have sex more frequently. This group has a higher rate of sexually transmitted disease. Even radio segments contain sexually oriented material. The numbers are lower. Only 22 percent of the material is sexually related. However, the number of hours spent listening to the radio is higher than for television or movies. We do not know whether this has any effect on adolescent behavior. Music CDs are often purchased. They might be downloaded from the internet. Approximately 22 percent of the top 10 CDs have sexually explicit lyrics. We do not know if this has any effect on adolescent behavior. Most adolescents spend time on the internet. The average amount of time is two hours per day four days per week. About 14 percent of teenagers report that they have seen things on the internet that they would not want their parents to know about. We do not know how much pornography is accessed by teenagers on the Internet. We also do not know the effects of this. Magazines, advertising and video/computer games all have sexual content. However, there are statistics available as to how much of their content is sexual. For that reason, we do not know the impact on adolescent behavior. The sources of information about sexual behavior are everywhere. Parents need to be aware of this. Parents need to help put things in perspective. Sexual behavior in adolescents is still the exception rather than the rule. The media may suggest otherwise. However, the facts do not support that.

Dr. Anthony Policastro is medical director at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.
Safe Sitter classes offered at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
Safe Sitter classes for girls and boys aged 11 to 13 will be offered at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital. The two part course will be held from 9 a.m. till 3 p.m. on July 22 and 23. The Safe Sitter program is a medically-accurate instructional series that teaches youngsters how to handle emergencies when caring for younger children. The cost is $35. Participants are to bring a bag lunch. To register your son or daughter or your child’s babysitter, call 629-6611 ext. 2540. The goal of Safe Sitter is to reduce the number of accidental and preventable deaths among children being cared for by babysitters. Thousands of young adolescents across the country have been trained by Safe Sitter to handle life-threatening emergencies. All medical information will be taught by a certified professional. During the course, students get hands-on practice in basic life-saving techniques so they are prepared to act in a crisis. For more information about Safe Sitter, contact Nanticoke Memorial Hospital at 629-6611 extension 2540.