The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending for schools to insist on comprehensive sex education programs to counter the influence of sexually suggestive and explicit media, adding that it is “unwise” to promote abstinence-only sex education.
In a new policy statement revealed this month, the organization of over 60,000 pediatricians noted the “major disconnect” between what mainstream media portray – casual sex and sexuality with no consequences – and what children and teenagers "need" – straightforward information about human sexuality and the need for contraception when having sex.
“Television, film, music, and the Internet are all becoming increasingly sexually explicit, yet information on abstinence, sexual responsibility, and birth control remains rare,” AAP noted in introducing its new policy.
Between 1997 and 2001, for example, the amount of sexual content on TV nearly doubled. And today, talks about sex on TV can occur as often as 8 to 10 times per hour, AAP noted.
Meanwhile, music continues to be a major source of sexual suggestiveness. In one study, 40 percent of lyric lines contained sexual material, and only 6 percent contained healthy sexual messages.
"The most recent studies have revealed that listening to sexually degrading lyrics is associated with earlier sexual intercourse," AAP noted, among other observations.
Then, of course, there’s the internet.
In a national sample of 1500 10- to 17-year-olds, nearly half of the Internet users had been exposed to online pornography in the previous year.
And unfortunately, results of considerable research have indicated that the media can have a major effect on young people's attitudes and behaviors and that it “clearly” plays a major role in determining whether certain teenagers become sexually active earlier rather than later.
"[E]xposure to sexual content in the media is a significant factor in the intention to have sex in the near future," AAP reported.
“Adolescents frequently cite the media as a source of sexual information,” it added.
That said, AAP made a number of recommendations. Parents, for one, should be encouraged to recognize the importance of the media, exert control over their children's media choices, keep their children's bedrooms free of TVs and Internet connections, and avoid letting their children see PG-13- and R-rated movies that are inappropriate for them.
Pediatricians and child advocacy groups, meanwhile, should encourage the entertainment industry to produce more programming that contains “responsible sexual content” and that focuses on the interpersonal relationship in which sexual activity takes place
And schools, AAP said, should insist on comprehensive sex education programs that incorporate basic principles of media literacy into their sex education programs.
“Federal money should be spent on comprehensive sex education programs but not on abstinence-only programs, which have been found to be ineffective,” AAP stated after chiding parents and legislators for favoring abstinence-only sex education when the media are decidedly not abstinence only.
“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,” it added.
While pro-family conservatives might disagree, AAP defended its new policy by pointing to recent statistics.
According to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 46 percent of all high school seniors have had sexual intercourse, and 14 percent have had 4 partners or more.
And although pregnancy rates have generally been decreasing since 1991, the United States still has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the Western world.
Adolescents also have one of the highest STI (sexually transmitted infection) rates of any age group with 15- to 24-year-olds accounting for half of all new STIs every year despite accounting for only one-quarter of the sexually active population in the United States.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention further revealed that 1 in 4 teenagers has had an STI.
“From a health viewpoint, early sexual activity among U.S. adolescents is a potential problem because of the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,” AAP noted.
“Recommendations are presented to help pediatricians address this important issue,” it added.
Aside from its criticisms of abstinence-only sex education, AAP will likely ruffle conservative feathers with its claim that advertising for emergency contraceptives "could be an important way to reduce the number of abortions in the United States."
Founded in 1930, the Elk Grove, Ill.-based AAP is the world’s largest publisher of pediatric materials.