Islamic Studies

Study links teen pregnancy to sexy TV shows

By Andrew Stern

Originally published at Reuters

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Exposure to some forms of entertainment is a corrupting influence on children, leading teens who watch sexy programs into early pregnancies and children who play violent video games to adopt aggressive behavior, researchers said on Monday.

Researchers at the RAND research organization said their three-year study was the first to link viewing of racy television programing with risky sexual behavior by teens.

“Our findings suggest that television may play a significant role in the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the United States,” said Anita Chandra, a behavioral scientist who led the research at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

“We’re not saying we’re establishing causation, but we are saying this is one factor that we were able to prospectively link to the teen pregnancy outcome,” Chandra said in a phone interview.

The researchers recruited adolescents aged 12 to 17 and surveyed them three times between 2001 and 2004, asking about television viewing habits, sexual behavior and pregnancy.

In findings that covered 718 teenagers, there were 91 pregnancies. The top 10th of adolescents who watched the most sexy programing were at double the risk of becoming pregnant or causing a pregnancy compared to the 10th who watched the fewest such programs, according to the study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study focused on 23 free and cable television programs popular among teenagers including situation comedies, dramas, reality programs and animated shows. Comedies had the most sexual content and reality programs the least.

“The television content we see very rarely highlights the negative aspects of sex or the risks and responsibilities,” Chandra said. “So if teens are getting any information about sex they’re rarely getting information about pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.”


Teen pregnancy rates in the United States have declined sharply since 1991 but remain high compared to other industrialized nations. Nearly 1 million girls aged 15 to 19 years old become pregnant yearly, or about 20 percent of sexually active females in that age group. Most of the pregnancies were unplanned, the report said.

Young mothers are more likely to quit school, require public assistance and live in poverty, it said.

“Television is just one part of a teenager’s media diet that helps to influence their behavior. We should also look at the roles that magazines, the Internet and music play in teens’ reproductive health,” Chandra said, acknowledging still other factors can influence teen sex habits.

Living in a two-parent family reduced the chances of a teen getting pregnant or causing a pregnancy. Black teenagers, and those with discipline problems, had higher risks.

The report suggested broadcasters provide more realistic portrayals of the consequences of sex and that parents limit their children’s access to sexually explicit programing.

A second study in the journal added to existing evidence that youths who play violent video games — a worldwide trend with American children averaging 13 hours of video gaming a week — led to increased physically aggressive behavior.

Researchers from the United States and Japan evaluated more than 1,200 Japanese youths and 364 Americans between 9 and 18 years old and found a “significant risk factor for later physically aggressive behavior … across very different cultures.”

Aggressiveness in children is also associated with violence later on, according to the study by researchers from Iowa State University in Ames, the National Institute on Media and the Family in Minneapolis and Ochanomizu University and Keio University in Tokyo.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)

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  • AS

    Interesting. Yesterday I listened to an audio-video lecture by Dr. Ibrahim Saalim al-Azhari, graduate of Usul ad-Din. He has a few works of those is Da’wah ila at Tafkeer. He is in Australia. In any event, he made an interesting point about sex in the West. One of the things that he mentioned was that sex before puberty is a problematic act and he went on to talk of teen sex saying that an active sex life outside the confined of marriage and unrestricted has a big impact on the ability of the person to function in a marital relationship. He made the point that there is a lack of satisfaction and a built in sense of lack of commitment. An issue that was mentioned is that Europe has advanced greatly in fertility technology and despite this fertility is extremely low, Europe is infertile to some extent. This coupled with divorce and teen sex threatens the structure of the family and by default society.

    When we contemplate that Shariah came to preserve the family and the individual we have to ask here what is teen sex doing to our societies? Is it something we write off or is it linked to something much more destructive like dysfunctionality in marriage? In any case, something to ponder over.

  • Asalamu alaikum,

    This is becoming an epidemic in our society. It is becoming acceptable and promoted within the media AND in families themselves. My wife had mentioned that one day when she was at the mall just before PROM time at our local high school she noticed a family searching for a prom dress for their teenage daughter. When the daughter came to the mother asking how a dress looked on her, her uncle exclaimed (and excuse me for this) “why does it matter, its not going to stay on for long anyways” as he laughed. This culture is encouraged and it is becoming too much now.

    This “scare” tactic method of discouraging teenage sex is becoming a joke. They show you all sorts of diseases and such in health class in order to encourage “protective sex.” Kids treat this as a joke. They are neglecting the fact that kids think themselves as invincible and that such diseases would never touch them.

    The fundamental problem is having intimate relationships before marriage. Because this concept has long been lost in our society parents are finding it difficult to educate their children of the proper method of relationships. They say “you can’t have such relationships until you are older.” What does that mean? The root cause of the problem is not addressed. Every kid thinks they are older than they are.

    This is becoming ridiculous. Likewise, naturally, this reality is affecting our Muslim community. It is not uncommon for us to see our teenage brothers and sisters following the same pattern of the society. I know many people personally who have already been involved in this behavior. What are we going to do to address this?

  • Asalamwalaikum,

    Thank you for posting the article. This issue really hits home. I work with high-risk youth (females) who are typically either pregnant or sexually active and even promiscuous, their ages range from 12-19. What’s crucial to understand is their motivation for being sexually active: aside from temptation/hormones, they are swimming in an ocean of isolation, desire for love, affection and fitting in, neglect and the list goes on. Our Muslim youth are not so different. They too are struggling with fitting in, creating an independent identity and perhaps balancing their faith with culture.

    With an understanding of today’s youth, their struggles and current cultural trends, we can maybe do a mediocre job of nudging them in the right direction. The number one focus, however, isn’t any of the above – it’s the relationship. I can walk into any of my girl groups and talk about sex, relationships, music or even finance, but NONE of that matters unless they have a meaningful relationship with me as a person.

    That’s one thing we need to see more of in our communities – Muslim and non-Muslim. It’s often underestimated how significant a single conversation with a teen can go. Many of them are thirsty for a trustworthy source they can turn to when they do have those difficult questions, questions they may be too embarrassed or afraid to ask their parents.

    The post before asks what we are going to do. It’s simple. Connect with the youth in your communities (again, Muslim and non-Muslim). Have a conversation with the youth you see at your family parties all the time, but never really had a serious conversation with. Volunteer at the Masjid’s youth group. If you don’t have one, start one. Volunteer at a local non-profit which focuses on youth [ Girls Incorporated might be a good place to start 😉 ] There are numerous ways to get yourself involved and it doesn’t have to be done alone. I’m sure if you sent out an email to your list of contacts, you’d find enough people who want to do something, anything. InshAllah we can provide the much needed guidance to our youth today, but we have to be willing to put ourselves out there, be vulnerable in front of a group of teens and willing to understand them without judging them.

  • Muslim parents need to be cautious and active about their children’s television habits. Some suggest channel locks, some say don’t get cable, other may even say toss your TV.

    Point is, something has to be done for each Muslim household. The care-free mentality that’s out there is super dangerous.

    Especially with this whole new “tween” pre-14 year old sexualization on TV on “innocent” channels like The Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. The after effects as the child grows up into high school, college, and eventually marriage can be highly problematic.

  • Isn’t it about time that people realize that they shouldn’t be installing the latest TVs, The latest 500 channel premium packs, The latest Game Consoles, the latest junk into their household! Looking at the content of the High School Musical, it IS forbidden to ALL muslims! In fact Movie Theaters are banned in Saudi Arabia. Some of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) stood away from many permissible things that could lead them to sin. Us Muslims should take these examples and apply it to our lives. Many people are complaining about the problems this world faces rather then seeking solutions. The solutions are in the quran, hadith/sunnah, and the examples from the companions! Turn off that TV and and turn on that brain! “Keep chillin’ and you’re gonna thaw in the Hell fire”

    You know, that article wouldn’t be up there if everyone just followed the sunnah.

  • It’s not the media’s job to raise our children – its our job to raise our children. We live in a capitalist society – if the demand for decent programming exists at a higher level, we’ll get it.

    The bottom line isn’t sex – the bottom line is money from advertisers based on television ratings. Corporate television executives have tapped into what we’re all in denial about – these “teens” and “tweens” are in reality young adults who are sexually capable (politically incorrect as that is in the 21st century western 1st world context which continues to stretch and contort the definition of childhood and adulthood).

    There’s no demand for clean TV because these children are coming full bloom into adulthood and rather than being taught by their families how and when it is properly expressed, it’s being taught by the TV because of the demand for such material begins at that age. Disney’s in on it as much as Cinemax.


  • Siraaj makes some excellent points. This stuff wouldn’t be on if people didn’t SEE IT. What happened to the good ol’ days when Full House and Family Matters were the hit shows? And “Step by Step” was considered inappropriate by our parents.


  • Teenage girls who are exposed to a lot of sexual content on television are more likely to get pregnant, and teenage boys are more likely to father a child, a study shows

    Teens who watch the most sexual content (90th percentile) on TV are twice as likely to experience a pregnancy in the three-year period as those who watch the least (10th percentile).

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