Teen Pregnancy And Sexual Risk Taking Associated With Violence

November 18, 1998

A recent study by researchers at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health reported that teenage girls who were currently pregnant and teenage girls who engaged in HIV-related sexual risk taking viewed more television programs that illustrated violence, depicted abusive acts against women or were sexually demeaning towards women.

Gina Wingood, Sc.D., M.P.H. and Ralph DiClemente, Ph.D., Emory behavioral scientists, report the results of their research at the American Public Health Association Meeting in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 18.

The researchers recruited 240 African-American females, ages 14 to 18, from adolescent health clinics. The participants completed surveys about their TV viewing habits and sexual history. Questions included the number of hours of TV watched and the percentage of TV programs viewed that illustrated violence, depicted women in a sexually demeaning manner, or depicted men physically or emotionally abusing women. The participants also reported on whether or not they used condoms during sex in the last 30 days, whether they used a condom at last intercourse, whether they had multiple sex partners in the last 30 days and whether they had ever had a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The participants also were given a urine pregnancy test.

In this sample, the number of hours of TV viewed was not associated with being currently pregnant or with HIV sexual risk taking; however, the content of the TV shows was associated with being currently pregnant and engaging in HIV sexual risk taking. The teens who tested positive for pregnancy reported viewing more TV shows that depicted women in a sexually condescending manner compared to teens who did not test positive (49.2% vs. 42.1%).

Participants who did not use condoms during sex in the last 30 days reported viewing a greater percentage of shows that depicted violence (70% vs. 61.9%). Teens who did not use condoms at last intercourse reported viewing a greater percentage of shows that depicted violence (66.8% vs. 60.7%) as well as a greater percentage of shows that depicted men physically or emotionally abusing women (49.2% vs. 40.9%). Participants with multiple sex partners reported viewing a greater percentage of TV shows that depicted women in a sexually condescending manner (50.9% vs. 42.3%) as did teens with a history of STDs (50.1% vs. 40.4%).

"The reported association between viewing more TV shows that depict greater sexual and violent content with pregnancy and HIV-related sexual risk taking suggests the need for encouraging TV networks to decrease the content of sexual and violent messages in TV shows and to increase the promotion of healthy sexual behaviors," said Dr. Wingood.

The research was supported by a grant from the Office of AIDS, National Institute of Mental Health.

Emory University Health Sciences Center

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