HBO is not knocking up our kids.

According to a new study, sexual content on TV is linked to teen pregnancy rates.

As someone who grew up in a European country, let me just throw in my opinion that this conclusion is a bunch of bullshit.

Look: where I grew up, the commercials for deodorants often feature naked female bodies, breasts and all, without causing a public uproar.  The nudie magazines in the gas stations are right in with all the other magazines, without wrappers to shield young eyes from the covers.  Television programs get edited for violent content, but not for nudity, and lots of prime time TV drama content over there would be shunted to the after-midnight slot–or over to HBO or Pay-Per-View–in this country.  Girls routinely get a prescription for the pill when they’re fifteen or sixteen (as a matter of public and personal health, not as a license for parentally-sanctioned promiscuity.)

All of these ingredients should turn young girls into sluts, and make the teenage pregnancy rate shoot through the roof, right?

Well, the teenage pregnancy rates in oh-so-sexually-permissive Germany and the Netherlands is 5 per 1,000, less than a tenth that of the United States at a proud 57 per 1,000.  These are the comparatively prude United States, where the appearance of an uncovered breast during a national live broadcast can cause a countrywide public uproar.  Teenagers in Germany and Holland not only get pregnant far less often, but they also have sex at a later age than American teenagers.

What’s the difference here?  Well, in the place with the much lower teen pregnancy rate, teenagers generally get all the information they need about how their bodies work, they get access to contraceptives when they need or want them, and their sex education isn’t limited to abstinence-only (which doesn’t work for priests–how well is it going to work for teenage hormone bombs?), or telling them “if you come home pregnant, I’ll kill you.”

(I never knew anyone who got pregnant or became a father in high school, and I attended a dozen different schools before graduating.  It was almost unheard of for a high school girl to get pregnant unintentionally.)

The same people who generally oppose proper sex education and contraceptive access for teenagers are usually the ones who are stridently anti-abortion as well.  The teenage abortion rate in Europe is similarly lower by several orders of magnitude, which sort of suggests that if the “abstinence only” and pro-life crowds truly cared about reducing the number of abortions, they’d put their daughters on the pill with a smile, and stuff their sons’ pockets with condoms.  Instead, a lot of parents treat the matter like the Brady campaign treats the subject of kids and firearms: pretend it doesn’t exist, don’t talk about it or show it on TV, and don’t ever educate your kids, because it might encourage them.  (Honestly–do you remember your teenage years?  Do you remember needing encouragement to think about sex pretty much non-stop?)  As a result, the United States competes with sub-Saharan Africa for the highest teen pregnancy rates, something that should clue people in that the way they’re doing it is not working particularly well.

So, no–boobies on TV, access to contraceptives, and proper sex ed don’t cause high teenage pregnancy rates.  All this is a roundabout way of stating that the available data does not support the conclusions of the study in the least–or, to put it in common parlance: that dog don’t hunt.


12 thoughts on “HBO is not knocking up our kids.

  1. I couldn’t agree more!

  2. Rob K says:

    I don’t know. I imagine it’s like the violent crime rate. Out in BFE where I live, the teen pregnancy rate makes Europe look like a maternity ward, much like the violent crime rate. But the inner city?

  3. MarkHB says:

    Jesus loves every baby, Marko, and don’t you forget it. And if the mom’s a crack-addicted train-wreck, and whichever daddy it might happen to be got shanked in the Pen last night… well… Jesus gotta test them young ones. Y’know?

    Grenade, please.

  4. Grant says:

    you are 100% right. The prude, misogynist attitude that pervades the USA (speaking as a Brit living in NJ) is horrible. The abstinence programme of Bush et all has caused the USA to compete with sub-saharan Africa not only in pregnancies, but also in new AIDS cases… Frankly, I think these people (those who promote such things) are evil.

  5. Tam says:

    The abstinence programme of Bush et all[sic] has caused the USA to compete with sub-saharan[sic] Africa not only in pregnancies…

    I wonder what the trend line of teen pregnancy rates has looked like in the U.S. over the last, say, thirty years? You’re saying it shot up since the Shrub took office? How much?

  6. Hear, hear, Marko!
    I totally agree with you. The American attitude of “ZOMG, naked bodies!!!!” is backwards and actually kind of embarrassing to me. Plus, in my experience, peer pressure is a much bigger problem here in the States than in Germany (can’t speak for the rest of Europe). That goes not only for teen sex but also teen drinking. Make it forbidden (like here) and it becomes that much more enticing.

  7. karrde says:

    Tam: I’ve heard of signals that both teen pregnancy and general teen sexual behavior showed a slight downward movement recently…but I can’t find the links. I also doubt that it was strongly correlated with a President, unless it was a certain President who claimed that a young woman sucking his privates wasn’t sex, so the kids thought they could do that without doing the sex thing.

    All and sundry: I was told (by a group astonishingly similar to the moral prudes described above) that sex education in American schools was too much “how to” and too little “STD’s and other possible bad consequences”. They claimed to have a list of examples astonishingly similar to every list of examples I’ve seen about sex-ed being hushed up by prudish parents.

    That is, half the evidence was anecdotal, and even the traceable facts referred to one particular locality which was a war-zone on the subject. I got the impression that most of the country had just shrugged and let the most recent educational fad be taught in school.

    I hesitate to conclude that prudes run the entire sex-ed business in America. Especially in areas where it seems to have failed at reducing teenage pregnancy rates (large urban enclaves for poor racial minorities).

  8. Alchemist says:

    Not HBO? Damn, I guess this means Dear Hubby and I can’t sue them for child support!
    No, seriously folks, TV and movies have nothing to do with teen pregnancy rates, unless it’s sex education which leads to lower rates.
    I speak with some experience. I was a mother at just 14, a sad, sad thing. My baby was adopted, as I wanted the best for her, i.e, _adult_ parents, two of them!
    However, movies and TV didn’t make me pregnant, stupidity did.
    Hence, my husband and I are determined to educate our son and daughter, and not that milksop education, oh no! We have already started. They are only 8 (twins), but they already know the basic facts of life.
    We refuse to hide sex and the consequences of it from our children. We don’t want them to think sex is shameful. How likely is it that they will come to us for help if they do something “shameful”?
    It’s our job as parents to educate our young and teach them how to be responsible adults, able to function in the real world. How can they do this if they don’t understand the workings of their own bodies?
    To blame TV and movies for our own shortcomings as parents is just pure laziness, for which our children (and unplanned grandchildren) will pay the price.

  9. mikeb302000 says:

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more. I’m happy to be raising my kids in Rome Italy where I think they’ll get a better “education” than they would in the States, for exactly the reasons you described.

  10. “sexual content on tv is linked to teen pregnancy rates”?

    well, i can put the lie to that little study with my own personal little anecdotal history. there surely wasn’t any “sexual content” on tv in my little town in the 60’s and 70’s; we got snowy reception of abc and nbc only, and cable was just a rumor when my sweetie and i missed the “features” at the local drive-in…backseat rendezvous which eventually and predictably resulted in my daughter’s debut when we were both just 17.

    hard to put the blame on something that didn’t exist, and we weren’t the only ones…several of our classmates made babies that year and the next, though i think we might be the only ones still together after 37 years; it’s not an easy or advisable path, that’s for sure. but it wasn’t ignorance; this was of course the time of “free love” which resulted in some pretty practical sex-ed courses in school, and most of us had pretty straight talk from the parental units on the possibilities and consequences. still, this was before aids had reared its ugly head and condoms were used not so much for disease prevention as in their imperfect role as baby prevention, and there were those- ahem- whose preference for bareback sometimes outweighed the potential for parenthood in the heat of the moment, but who decided to accept responsibility and embrace the role once it was, uh, thrust upon us.

    but none of this is to say that popular entertainment for our young is anything to champion…videos, movies, “music”, and yes, television to which our young are exposed and addicted, has absolutely had its negative effects on their concept of what is good and decent and worthy as relates to attitudes and actions towards others and even themselves; nudity and sex and love have been degraded and defiled and dulled to the point of eclipsing the beauty and tenderness and sacredness that human relations are based on.

    censorship at the hands of parents is an excellent tool; we limit the choices of those who are not yet mature enough to make wise decisions…but in the hands of gov, censorship of anything; entertainment, drugs, guns, and any other victimless pursuit or pleasure, is fallacy…even counterproductive as evidenced by the reduction in unwanted pregnancies, addictions, and other abberant behaviors in societies which leave such choices up to individuals -and parents if those individuals are minors. that is one of the strongest arguments for little “l” libertarianism, and one which has been and probably will continue to be ignored as peripheral or antithetical to common thought and more importantly, political control.


  11. TheRock says:

    Let me be the devil’s advocate for a minute here:

    The plural of anecdote isn’t data.

    Now that that is out of the way, I note the article includes this line:

    “A central message from the study is that there needs to be more dialogue about sex in the media, particularly among parents and their children, said Anita Chandra, the study’s lead author and a behavioral scientist at RAND.”



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