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Sex scenes more frequent on television, study finds

BEVERLY HILLS, California (CNN) -- More than two-thirds of the shows on U.S. television now have sexual content, compared with just over half just two years ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation said Tuesday as it released its biennial report on sex in entertainment.

The study, meant as a yardstick for the entertainment industry, found that programs with sexual content increased from 56 percent of shows in the 1997-1998 television season to 68 percent in the 1999-2000 season.

Programs portraying teens in sexual situations increased from 8 percent to 9 percent in the period, and teen television characters involved in intercourse jumped from 3 percent to 9 percent.

The study noted that 32 per cent of shows involving teens talking about or engaging in sexual intercourse made reference to sexual risks and responsibilities. Only one in 10 of all shows with sexual content did so, the study said.

"Every year in this country, there are three-quarters of a million teen pregnancies and 4 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases among teens," said Vicky Rideout of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "Now, we're not blaming TV for this, but we are saying that young people watch a lot of TV. There's obviously a lot of sex on TV, so it's important to think about the messages about sex that television is communicating."

The biggest jump in sexual content occurred in situation comedies, an increase from 56 percent to 84 percent. Reality shows were the least likely to include sexual content (27 percent) and movies were the most likely to do so (89 percent).

Rideout said sexual content could include sex talk, characters planning to have sex and scenes with sexual intercourse.

An industry conference coinciding with the release of the report featured network executives, producers, writers, advertisers, researchers and policy makers.

Jessica Klein, executive producer of the NBC Saturday morning teen show "Just Deal," said she has made a point of producing a responsible show.

"It's an educational show," Klein said. "So when we deal with issues of romance particularly, not specifically sex necessarily, it's important for us to give kids a guidebook about what can be a helpful way for them to navigate the rough quarters of adolescence."

The Kaiser study, titled "Sex on TV: Content and Context," found that messages in programs about sexual health can impact viewers positively. Viewers of the NBC drama "ER," the report said, were found to have an increased knowledge of emergency contraception and the sexually transmitted disease human papillomavirus, or HPV.

The Kaiser Family Foundation calls itself an independent organization dedicated to providing information and analysis on health issues. It is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.

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The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

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