Too much sex on TV, children tell researchers

Children think there is too much sex on television and that the media and pop stars gratuitously use naked flesh as a marketing tool, a study revealed yesterday.

Research for the official television watchdogs found that nine to 17-year-olds were "media-savvy" and "cynical" and were "not the naïve or incompetent consumers they are frequently assumed to be".

Two-thirds of children said they had seen a programme or video that contained "too much" sexual content, although 64 per cent of them carried on watching.

As part of the research, the children were shown pop videos featuring Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya and Li'l Kim. One 12-year-old boy said of Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U" video: "She's selling us her looks basically. I think she's not got anything in between her ears - and her voice isn't really that good either." Claims by Spears that she was preserving her virginity were "widely questioned and mocked" by the children.

Andrea Millwood Hargrave, research director of the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC), said: "The children were quite cynical about sexual images and depiction in pop videos. They were quite tough on celebrities. There is a sense here that sex is used to compensate for other deficiencies."

The findings come from interviews with 120 children aged from nine to 17, and 70 parents, as well as a questionnaire survey of almost 800 children. The report also includes data from a two-year study by London University of 10 to 14-year-olds. It was commissioned by the BSC, the Independent Television Commission, the BBC, the Advertising Standards Authority and the British Board of Film Classification.

Most of the children were blasé about "Page 3" pictures of women in newspapers. The report says: "While some might perceive 'pin-up' images of the Page 3 variety as a prehistoric relic of patriarchy, many of the children whom we interviewed saw them as merely a banal fact of life."

Researchers found that 68 per cent of children turned to the media for information about sex and that they rejected the notion that they were vulnerable to media exploitation. Only 66 per cent of children asked their mothers for sex information. Fathers - who were consulted on sexual matters by only 34 per cent of children - were ranked as no more important as a source of advice than "posters and advertisements".

Ms Millwood Hargrave said children had spoken of their fathers "hiding behind the newspaper" when sexual content appeared on television. One 12-year-old boy told researchers: "My mum doesn't say anything about sex on television because she knows I know everything about sex and relationships."

The researchers noted: "Most children claimed to have enjoyed a state of absolute knowledge from about the age of 11." The study found, however, that this knowledge was "much less than absolute".

One pair of 10-year-olds told the researchers that they had been "going out together" since the age of five.

Middle-class children were supportive of gay rights but working-class youngsters were frequently homophobic. Younger boys demonstrated "homosexual panic" when looking at pictures of semi-naked men in advertisements. Gay "seemed to serve as a catch-all term denoting something to be feared", the report said.

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