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Porn To Be Wild

Watching X-rated films makes teens promiscuous, study claims

TUESDAY, May 8 (HealthScout) -- Watching X-rated movies may make teen-age girls promiscuous, careless about contraception and vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, a new study claims.

Surprisingly, the study also says teen-age girls who watch X-rated movies are 2.5 times as likely to want to get pregnant.

"What we wanted to know is: Do a lot of teen-age girls watch X-rated movies? And we wanted to see if it has any influence on teen-age sexuality, behavior and attitudes," says Gina Wingood, an associate professor at Emory University's School of Public Health in Atlanta.

"And to our surprise -- and remember, we are talking about young teens, ages 14 to 18 -- nearly 30 percent of the teens had reported watching X-rated movies in the last three months."

Wingood recruited 522 African-American female teens "because the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and unintentional pregnancy is disproportionately higher among this group than other teen-age groups."

The girls filled out questionnaires about parental monitoring, movie habits and sexual practices and then were interviewed individually and tested for STDs. Each girl was paid $20 for her participation.

The girls who had watched porn movies recently were 1.4 times more likely to have a negative attitude about condom use, twice as likely to have had multiple sexual partners and 1.5 times more likely not to have used contraception during their last sexual encounter. They also were twice as likely to have had sex more frequently, the study says.

In addition, the girls who had watched pornography were 1.7 times more likely to test positive for chlamydia, the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, with an estimated 4 million new cases each year.

The findings appear in the current issue of Pediatrics.

'A problem for all teens'

Wingood says, "There's no pregnancy-prevention messages coming up in X-rated movies, nor condom use or STD prevention. And there is certainly no discussion of the outcomes of what might happen if you don't use contraception, or practice safe-sex methods."

"These teenagers, and all teen-agers, are particularly vulnerable to sexual messages," she says.

Wingood says this is a problem for all teens, not just African-American girls.

"We clearly want to do similar studies in other adolescent populations like whites, Latinos and also males. These X-rated movies are clearly mimicking what you see happening with violence on TV and in the movies. That could be the same type of thing going on with sex," she says.

But Dr. Victor Strassberger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico, says the study, while interesting, is not definitive.

"This study suggests there is an association but hasn't proven cause-and-effect. To prove cause-and-effect, you would have to have a study that is much larger and conducted over a couple of years," Strassberger says.

"Does sex in the media cause sexual behavior, or is it simply that kids who are already sexually active seek out more sexual content in the media? It's a chicken-egg dilemma, and this study can't answer that question," he says.

That doesn't mean the media isn't a problem, Strassberger says.

"Media functions as sex education. The problem is that most -- but not all -- of the content does not deal with the risks and responsibilities of sexual behavior. The latest content analysis shows that only 10 percent of television shows deal with the risks and responsibilities of sex. And though it goes up to 32 percent for shows directed at teen-agers, it should be 100 percent," he says.

What To Do

Strassberger says, "Parents need to exercise more control over what their kids are viewing. And writers and producers in Hollywood need to make sure that sexual content is responsible."

And sex education in the schools has to be more realistic, Strassberger says. "Sex education in schools has got to be more comprehensive and not stop at an abstinence-only policy, because clearly kids are interested and engaging in sexual behavior."

For more information on sex, the media and teen-agers, visit Mediascope, or the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Or read these HealthScout stories on teen-age sex.

SOURCES: Interviews with Gina Wingood, Ph.D., associate professor, Emory University School of Public Health, Atlanta, and Victor Strassberger, M.D., professor of pediatrics, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque; May 21, 2001, Pediatrics
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