By Lynn Elber
AP Television Writer
LOS ANGELES Sexual content on television has risen sharply since 1997, showing up in two of every three programs last season, according to a study released yesterday.
Research conducted for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found sexual content in 68 percent of the 1999-2000 shows studied, compared with 56 percent in 1997-98.
Such content includes talk about sex, flirting, kissing, intimate touching and depictions of intercourse.
Only 10 percent of programs were found to emphasize sexual risks and responsibilities virtually unchanged from 1997-98. But shows featuring teen-agers were more likely to include such issues, something the report called an impressive trend.
Overall, one of every 10 programs on TV is estimated to include a scene in which characters engage in sex, up from 7 percent, the report said. Fox's "Ally McBeal'' and ABC's soap "Port Charles'' were noted as having depicted intercourse.
"While we haven't yet had the chance to review the entire study, we are confident in the rigorous standards we apply to all entertainment programming at ABC,'' ABC spokesman Kevin Brockman said. "We take our responsibility to our viewers as seriously as we do our responsibility to provide entertaining, quality programming.''
Fox declined to comment.
In all, 1,114 broadcast and cable programs, including movies, series, soap operas, news magazines and talk shows, were randomly selected and analyzed by researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Ten networks or channels were studied: ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, HBO, PBS, TNT, USA, Lifetime and WB.
The study found that more teen characters are being depicted engaging in intercourse. In 1997-98, teenagers represented 3 percent of all characters having sex; in the new study, the figure had tripled to 9 percent.
But shows in which teens talk about or have sex are twice as likely to include discussion of the risks or responsibilities compared with all other programs with sexual content.
That is an "impressive pattern'' because TV is an influential force for young viewers "just developing their ideas about sex,'' the report said.
Half of high school students in 1999 had engaged in sex, according to government figures cited by the foundation. Yet few teens get information on the subject from parents, the report said.
"Not surprisingly, media portrayals may fill this gap as the most readily available alternative,'' it said.
Among sitcoms, 84 percent contain sexually oriented language or action, up from 56 percent in the previous study. Only movies, at 89 percent, have more sex.
Among dramas, sexual content rose from 58 percent to 69 percent.
"Temptation Island'' aside, the study found that reality television was the least sexy genre: 27 percent of such shows in 1999-2000 included sexual content, well below the overall average.
Talk shows and soaps were the only two genres that did not show an increase in such content: The sexual content in soap operas dropped from 85 percent to 80 percent; in talk shows, it dropped from 78 percent to 67 percent.
The foundation is an independent philanthropic group that studies health care, including reproductive and AIDS-related issues. It is not affiliated with the Kaiser medical organization.
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