Teenagers who watch television programmes with sexual content are up to twice as likely to become pregnant, a new study has found.
The researchers tracked more than 2,000 American teenagers for three years, monitoring their exposure to programmes like Friends and Sex and the City.
They found that sexually active teens whose exposure to the programmes was highest were twice as likely to become pregnant or get someone else pregnant as those who watched them the least.
The evidence for the link was still compelling even when other factors like family background were taken into account.
The risk of teenage pregnancy could be reduced, the researchers concluded, if the media offered a more balanced portrayal of sex and its possible negative consequences.
One of the researchers, Dr Anita Chandra, said: “We were surprised to find this link. But teens spend a good amount of their time watching television — an average of three hours a day — and we don’t know a lot about its impact on their health decisions.
“Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy. We found a strong association.”
Mike Judge of The Christian Institute said: “These shows normalise casual sex but write its emotional and physical consequences out of the script. Real life just isn’t like that, and it’s deceptive and irresponsible to offer teenagers happy endings when they are more likely to end up depressed, pregnant, or suffering with a sexually transmitted infection.”
Dr Chandra said that the amount of sexual content on TV has doubled in the last few years.
There are increasing concerns that Government plans to make more in-depth sex education compulsory will backfire as schools become yet another environment where children are over-exposed to information about sex.
Last month the Scout Association was criticised for new plans to provide its members with contraceptives and organise trips to family planning clinics.
Experts have warned that young girls are suffering under the pressure to engage in early sexual activity, and just last week a survey by schools watchdog Ofsted revealed that a third of eleven-year-olds are worried about their bodies.
The survey also showed that more than half of ten to 15-year-olds say they don’t want any more sex education.