TV sex doesn't turn off Auntie

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The Independent Online

Media Corespondent

Viewers are more tolerant of sex on television than previously thought, according to new research done for the BBC. Even some of the most conservative watchers - middle-aged women - now find sex and nudity on screen acceptable.

The survey, comparing attitudes now with those in 1985, reveals that over the last decade there has been an increasing liberalisation of attitudes. On sex and nudity, older women's tolerance has gone up by 8 per cent to 41 per cent, while middle-aged women's has gone up from 44 to 59 per cent.

The largest shift in attitudes has been towards homosexuality. In the past 10 years there has been a 20 per cent fall in the notion that homosexuality is offensive on television. Forty per cent of women over 55 now find it acceptable, as do 56 per cent of middle-aged men (35 to 55) and 70 per cent of young men (18 to 34).

Despite recent complaints about issues as diverse as an orgy scene in Absolutely Fabulous, and an attempt by Michele in EastEnders to seduce her married boss, 44 per cent of viewers rate the BBC's performance in setting standards of taste and decency as excellent or very good, Stephen Whittle, the chief adviser on editorial policy, told a BBC governors' seminar on taste and decency.

That figure was well above the 27 per cent response for ITV and 15 per cent for Channel 4.

The acceptance rate for bad language has risen from 69 per cent to 75 per cent among young people in the last 10 years. Women over 55 have also become more liberal: in the same period the percentage accepting bad language has risen from 30 to 38.