Sexual content on TV is increasing

In its fourth report on the subject, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that depictions and descriptions of sexuality on TV are increasing, particularly on the programs teens are most likely to watch. They further found that most references to sex do not include messages about risks or responsibilities.

Key findings from the 2005 report include:1

The amount of sexual content on television continues to increase.

Seventy percent of all shows in 2005 had sexual content, up from 56% in 1998 and 64% in 2002. Two-thirds (68%) of all shows talked about sex, and 35% of all shows included sexual behaviors.

Among the top 20 most-watched shows by teens, 70% included some kind of sexual content, and nearly half (45%) included sexual behavior.

The proportion of prime-time broadcast shows with sexual content also increased: 77% in 2005, compared to 67% in 1998.

In shows with sexual content, the number of sexual scenes in 2005 was up to an average of 5.0 scenes an hour from 3.2 per hour in 1998.

The number of sex scenes per hour in prime-time and top teen shows was even higher, at 5.9 and 6.7, respectively.

The total number of sexual scenes in the program sample nearly doubled since this study was first conducted in 1998 (from 1,930 to 3,783).

References to sexual risks or responsibilities remain rare on TV.

Only 1% of all shows with sex had a primary thematic emphasis on sexual risks or responsibilities.

Among the 20 most highly rated shows for teen viewers in 2005, only 10% of those with sexual content included a reference to sexual risks or responsibilities.

Among shows with any sexual content involving teen characters, just 23% included a reference to sexual risks or responsibilities.

1 Dale Kunkel, Keren Eyal, Keli Finnerty, Erica Biely, & Ed ward Donnerstein, “Sex on TV 4,” Kaiser Family Foundation, November 2005,

Copyright © 2013, Daniel Weiss. All rights reserved. Used with permission.