Images of sex on teen TV

There’s lots of talk about how racy or sex-filled television shows are likely to increase sexual activity among teenagers.

But the study linked above, and much of the rest of the talk on this topic, don’t really talk about teenagers – they talk more about pre-teenagers, or early teens. As a teenager I didn’t really have the time to spend watching television – I was much too busy engaging in life and with my friends and yes, with my boyfriends, to spend my limited hours watching someone else engage in life! But as a preteen, and as an older child, I spent plenty of hours watching television – much of it about teenagers and their social and sexual lives. (Saved By The Bell anyone?)

The point is that there is far too much talk about teenagers watching sexy television, and far too little talk about older children and preteens watching sexy television. Those earlier images are the ones that can really paint a person’s permanent picture of sexuality and have serious long-term impacts on relationship skills.

What do you think? Did you watch much television in your older childhood or preteen or teenage years? How do you think it affected your sexual choices at the time or later in life?

And what about your children and teenagers? How much do you monitor their television for sexual content, and what impact do you hope that monitoring (or lack of it) will do for them?

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I watched Saved by the Bell too…

    I don’t remember watching all that much TV in high school, to be honest…but when I was younger, I had my share of afternoon cartoons and shows my mom liked, like Magnum P.I., Murder She Wrote, and Star Trek. Guess I’m a murder mystery lovin’ nerd for a reason? I also remember watching my grandmother’s shows, like Young & the Restless and The Price is Right. Not anything that really set my sexuality though.

    But if you are looking for something that I am pretty sure DID shape my sexual views, I guess you could say watching my biological dad’s hidden Playboy videos, finding a copy of my mom’s Kama Sutra’s illustrated sexual positions art book, and some pornographic video my cousin was watching while babysitting me iin the kindergarten age might have had some impact. All I can tell you is that I have memories of maturbation since the age of 5 – although at that age it was just a feel good spot in that general area, nothing too premeditated or accurate. But I was “role-playing” with my masturbation by the time I was 8 or so, with emphasis on being unaware that the bad guy was the “great guy in bed” although I was pretending to be unaware it wasn’t the good guy. I blame that fantasy on the movie Revenge of the Nerds, specifically the part where the nerd dresses up in a costume posing as the cheerleader’s boyfriend – and she ends up liking his sexual technique better. I never forgot that. I’m sure I wasn’t a teenager yet when I first saw that movie.

  2. Saved by the Bell? Um no. Never seen it. Is it related to Kids in the Hall?

    Like you my TV viewing peaked as a preteen. In that magic time between getting home from school and when the folks got home from work. 2 solid hours every day. And Saturday morning, at least 2 hours. And maybe some at night, but nothing really stands out.

    Being a pre-teen in the pre-cable age probably made a difference in what I was watching. The big three networks and scattered UHF stations didn’t really have that much that was racy. There was much to be learned about the roles of men and women, but not so much about sex.

    Even something like ads for bras had them displayed on clear mannequins, or had women wearing them OVER a sweater.

    Love American Style stands out as an exception as a TV show that talked more about sex. But it was pretty campy.

    So I would say that TV shaped my ideas about men and women’s roles, but as far as sex – it wasn’t discussed on TV, and it wasn’t discussed in my family.

  3. At that age I watched a lot of TV, but it was all very tame, like being obsessed with Bewitched. It may have influenced me, but I can’t say how. (I would always turn off the TV when Saved By the Bell came on!)

    Even as an adult, my husband loves Seinfeld and when I watch it with him I think it’s funny, but the sexual themes in it make me uncomfortable. I’m glad I didn’t watch it as a child.

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