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Education Reporter

More Sex, Less Marriage on TV
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Prime time television glorifies sex outside of marriage; we don't need a study to tell us that. But a new study from the Parents Television Council (PTC) exposes just how big of a problem prime time TV has become.

The study, titled "Happily Never After," focuses on prime time's obsession with extramarital sex, and its denigration of marital sex and marriage in general. "Today's prime time television programming is not merely indifferent to the institution of marriage and the stabilizing role it plays in our society," concludes PTC. Rather, "it seems to be actively seeking to undermine marriage by consistently painting it in a negative light."

To hear the major networks tell it, sex within marriage is either a burden or nonexistent, while adultery and extramarital sex are exciting and positive experiences for the people involved. Across hundreds of hours of programming, references to nonmarital sex outnumbered references to marital sex by three to one — and by almost four to one during the "family hour" between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. There were twice as many references to adultery as to married sex. When references to marital sex did crop up, they were usually negative.

A few shows take a more positive view of marriage, said PTC president Tim Winter, although those shows may not be appropriate for children, either. The drama "Friday Night Lights" is "better than most in showing positive portrayals of marital relations and intimacy," he said. Winter also mentioned the sitcom "Everybody Hates Chris" as a rare TV-land portrayal of a strong marriage.

Of course, prime time doesn't just refer to sex verbally. It also frequently presents scenes of actual or implied sex — and when it does, it presents nonmarital sex four times as often as marital sex.

"In the 1950s and '60s it used to be that you would never see married couples in bed together," said Winter. "You may have noticed that when you turn the television on now you still never see married couples in bed together, but for entirely different reasons. You'll see teenagers in bed with prostitutes, men in bed with their mistresses, and teachers in bed with their students."

Winter's observation alludes to a second reality the study documented. Besides adultery and casual sex, TV shows now frequently depict or refer to aberrant sexual practices such as partner swapping, pedophilia, bestiality, prostitution, necrophilia, and sadomasochism.

Such practices appear on screen 2.7 times as often as marital sex does — setting aside the question of whether even scenes of sex between husband and wife make good TV material. Even children and teens who seldom watch prime time TV can easily come across references to or depictions of abnormal sex, and suffer longlasting effects on how they think and feel about sex and marriage. The effects on those who watch television often — and most Americans watch it every day — are incalculable. (www.ptc.com, Washington Times, 8-11-08)

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