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Media Barrier
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Breaking the Contraceptive Barrier: Techniques for Effective Contraceptive Consultations

(Published September 2008)

The Media Barrier

The media may be one of the most potent influences on our perceptions of sexual behavior in the United States, and the media influences many of the attitudes discussed thus far. A Kaiser Family Foundation study of television programming in the 2004–05 season found that 70 percent of 959 general audience TV shows included sexual content.1 Of the 675 shows with sexual content, an average of five scenes per hour involved talking about sex or sexual behavior.2 Although sexual content in the American media may not be as explicit as in other places in the world, it is the most sexually suggestive, touting messages such as “being swept away is the natural way to have sex,” “everyone is having sex,” and “there is no time to prepare to have sex.”3

These sexually suggestive messages are noticeably one-sided. Only 14 percent of the television shows with sexual content include any messages about the real-life risks and consequences of having sex.4 In addition, many networks refuse contraceptive advertising or have highly restrictive policies about the content of contraceptive advertising, the times during which such advertising can air, or both. Two of the major networks refuse to air any advertisements for condoms, and three others air such advertisements only after 9 pm or 11 pm. Many networks refuse to air advertisements for birth control pills, and those that do air such ads typically emphasize only non-contraceptive benefits, such as reduction of acne.4

The impact of the media’s emphasis on sex is significant. A study published in Pediatrics in 2004 concluded that watching sex on TV predicts and may hasten adolescent sexual initiation. The study also concluded that greater emphasis on the possible negative consequences of sexual activity could appreciably delay initiation of coital and non-coital activities.5


  1. Kaiser Family Foundation/Seventeen Magazine. Sex smarts: birth control and protection. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation; 2004.
  2. Kunkel D, Eyal K, Finnerty K, Biely E, Donnerstein E. Sex on TV 4. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation; 2005.
  3. Strasburger VC. Adolescents, sex and the media: Ooooo, baby, baby. A Q&A. Adolesc Med Clin. 2005;16:269-88.
  4. Espey E, Cosgrove E, Ogburn T. Family planning American style: why it’s so hard to control birth in the US. Obstet Gynecol Clin N Am. 2007;34:1-17.
  5. Collins RL, Elliott MN, Berry SH, Kanouse DE, Kunkel D, Hunter SB, et al. Watching sex on television predicts adolescent initiation of sexual behavior. Pediatrics. 2004;114:280-9.