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Sexuality, Contraception & the Media

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

You may have already heard about the recent article released by the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled ”Sexuality, Contraception and the Media”’.  This article appears in the September issue Pediatrics, and is written by Dr. Victor Strasburger who is a frequent commentator on the media and its effects on children.

If you are a parent of any age child, you realize quite quickly how often media messages are aimed at children, tweens and teens, and that many of these messages seem to be full of sexual content and innuendo. From children’s television shows and the commercials they air, to the movie theatre and the previews before a “purportedly” G movie, to the “family sitcoms” that air on evening TV, not to mention the nightly news shows, there are sexually explicit scenes or comments airing day and night.

In so many cases there are sexually explicit scenes or” bedroom scenes”,  but there never seems to be a scene showing a condom, or a discussion about acquiring a sexually transmitted disease from having sex, or teenage or even adult unplanned pregnancies.   There are so many TV sitcoms where the stars speak of “hooking up” with multiple partners, but why doesn’t anyone ever get pregnant, or have chlamydia or pelvic inflammatory disease or a genital wart?  Guess that doesn’t sell well to those “family advertisers”.

The United States leads the western world in teenage pregnancies and the numbers continue to grow.  American teens also have very high rates of STD’s, some say 1:4 with HPV and Chlamydia leading the charge. Both of these diseases may cause long lasting and sometimes life-threatening conditions if not treated early.

While many parents do have discussions with their children about sexuality, abstinence, protection from getting pregnant or acquiring a STD, there are others who do not educate their kids about sex and the media may be that child’s source of information.

Some schools offer sex education classes there is not a “standard” class or number of credits required in sex education before graduation. In some cases, schools may have ongoing classes which begin in late elementary school, and continue in an age appropriate manner through middle school and into high school.  These programs seem to be few and far between.

The “sex” talk is not a onetime event whether given by parents or in the school system, but needs to be a conversation over time geared appropriately to a child’s  chronological as well as developmental age. There is really not “one size fits all” for this. The more informed and up to date a teen is, the better decisions they make. Use the news to teach and discuss some of the inappropriate shows they watch or what they hear.

The portrayal of sex within the media is not limited to TV and movies. Throughout the day on the radio, on the internet, on billboards, magazines and in all types of music our children are continually bombarded with sexuality.  Kids seem to be “numb” to even hearing it or seeing it as they have come to expect this. The lyrics on songs often embarrass me but the teens  ( both boys and girls) know every word and aren’t embarrassed to sing them out. I even see toddlers in my office who know words from songs that they have overhead from older siblings and they just sing away too.  Some long forbidden words are used all too freely these days.

Physicians need to reinforce that television time needs to be limited, as does time on the internet. Make sure you as parents are paying attention to the internet sites your child visits, and don’t allow a young child internet access at all.

Children should not have a television in their room  (at any age), and I can tell you how well that suggestion is taken in my own office. (Go to college and then you can get the TV somehow crammed into that dorm room!)  As one little precocious girl said to me last week, “ Dr. Sue your office is inappropriate”. When I asked her if she knew what that big word meant, she quickly responded, “why yes, that would mean you went outside without your clothes on, that is inappropriate”. So, I replied,  “why is our office inappropriate?”  She answered, “my Mom said it shouldn’t have a TV”.  I have to say I think she is right!

That’s your daily dose.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

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