Sex Education for Kids? Just Tune In, Log On, Listen Up

Filed under: In The News, Sex, Research Reveals: Tweens, Expert Advice: Teens

sex education

No glove, no love (we hope). Credit: Corbis

"Ain't no chaperones, this could be the night of your dreams ... We're rocking back and forth under the disco ball, we're the only ones on the floor ... Girl I promise I'll be gentle, I know we gotta do it slowly ... I'm gonna' cherish every moment, cause it only happens once, once in a lifetime."

Recognize these lyrics? No, they're not from some racy hardcore rap song; they're straight out of "First Dance," performed by tween and teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, 16, who's known for causing hysteria in devoted fans as young as 3.

Bieber's lyrics are pretty tame compared to those from performers such as Lady Gaga or Britney Spears, in an industry that continues to come under fire for its role in "sexualizing" youngsters. But it's not just music that influences kids and teens these days.

In a recent policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns pediatricians, parents and the media about the danger of sexual messages U.S. teens and children are getting from television, music, the Internet and other forms of media.

"Sexuality, Contraception and the Media," offers findings about teens and sex, including the fact that 46 percent of high school seniors have had sexual intercourse, 14 percent have had four partners or more and, for the first time in 15 years, the teen pregnancy rate increased -- by 3 percent -- from 2005 to 2006.

Although 15- to 24-year-olds account for only one-quarter of the sexually active population in the United States, that age group contracts nearly half of all new sexually-transmitted infections (STI) every year, according to the AAP. In fact, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that one in four teenagers has had an STI.

Also among the AAP findings: 10 percent of young women who first had sex as a teenager reported that their first time was involuntary, and the younger they were, the more likely that was the case.

The AAP reports that American children and teenagers spend more than seven hours a day with a variety of media -- often without adults present -- and new evidence suggests the media they use frequently plays an important role in the initiation of sexual intercourse in adolescents.

"Because so many sex education programs have recently been focused on abstinence only, the media have arguably become one of the leading sex educators in the United States today," the report states.

Some of the sex and media findings from the AAP:

  • On TV, the predominant medium in terms of time spent for all young people, more than 75 percent of prime time programs contain sexual content, yet only 14 percent of sexual incidents mention any risks or responsibilities of sexual activity. The amount of sexual content on TV nearly doubled from 1997 to 2001, which the AAP suggests is partly due to the explosion of reality shows.
  • Music continues to be a major source of sexual suggestiveness, with one study showing that 40 percent of lyric lines contained sexual material while just six percent contained healthy sexual messages.
  • Teen magazines, popular with pre-adolescent and adolescent girls, devote an average of 2.5 pages an issue to sexual topics, with the main focus seeming to be on deciding when the time is right for losing one's virginity.
  • Nearly half of 10- to 17-year-olds surveyed had been exposed to online pornography in the previous year.
  • In regard to social networking, the AAP cites a recent study of 500 publicly available MySpace profiles, which revealed that nearly one-quarter of them referenced sexual behaviors. In addition, in a national survey of nearly 1,300 teenagers and young adults, 20 percent reported having sent or posted nude pictures or videos of themselves ("sexting").
The AAP suggests a shift in programming, calls on pediatricians, parents and the media to help and suggests the following new guidelines:

  • Pediatricians should ask at least two media-related questions at each check-up: How much time do you spend daily with entertainment media? Is there a TV set or Internet access in your bedroom?
  • In addition to supervising their child's traditional media use, parents (as well as pediatricians) should understand social networking sites and counsel kids about using them.
  • The entertainment industry should be encouraged to produce more programming that contains responsible sexual content that focuses on the interpersonal relationship in which sexual activity takes place. Meanwhile, advertisers should stop using sex to sell products.
  • Pediatricians and the government should urge and encourage the broadcast industry to air advertisements for birth control products.
  • Ads for erectile dysfunction drugs, which can be confusing to young viewers, should not air until after 10 p.m.
  • Parents can use media story lines as teachable moments to discuss sex with their teens instead of doing "the big talk."
Related: Getting Teens to Talk (Eww) About Sex

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.