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TV Sex Nearly Doubles, Says Kaiser

Sex scenes on TV have almost doubled since 1998, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study released Wednesday.

According to the study of 1,000-plus hours of programming--excluding news, sports, and kids shows--across the four major broadcast nets, several top cable nets and a couple of stations, 70% of shows had some sexual content, averaging 5 sex scenes per hour.

That is up from 64% and 4.4 scenes per hour in 2002 and 6% and 3.2 scenes per hour in 1998.

In prime time, the percentage is 77% of shows and 5.9 sex scenes per hour, though again, a sex scene can include ones in which people talk about kissing or are simply flirting, a woman licking her lips seductively, for example.

Although references to "safer sex," abstinence, birth control, and the wages of unprotected sex have increased since the first study in 1998, they have "leveled off" in recent years, according to Kaiser.

The study counts as a sex scene talking about it, kissing and fondling, and intercourse when those are the emphasis of a scene.

Depictions or strong suggestions of intercourse have actually gone down, from 14% of shows to 11%.

“The increase in the number of TV shows with sexual content, combined with the increase in sexual scenes per show has led to a dramatic overall increase in sexual content on TV since 1998,” said lead researcher Dale Kunkel, University of Arizona professor.
Programs studied were digitally recorded and evaluated by "trained coders."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.