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Can We Pin Record High STD Rates on TV?

Can We Pin Record High STD Rates on TV?

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Tuesday, 01 November 2016 11:07 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Morality and monogamy are old school. In the modern era Millennials and Gen X’ers are expected to have more partners and be more sexually active than previous generations, all without any consequences.

After all, that’s the message we get on TV and in the movies — that’s it’s only dullards and 40 year old virgin who aren’t finding hookups on Tinder every night of the week.

Married? No worries, that’s why late nights at the office and business trips were invented.

Except that’s not really how life works, and even before the rise of AIDS, there were significant consequences to promiscuity, ranging from broken relationships, divorces, and unwanted pregnancies to sexually transmitted diseases.

Medicine has made strides in the treatment of just about all STDs, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) just released the surprising news that STDs are at an all-time high in the United States. As CNN says, “there were more reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases last year than ever before.”

We’re not talking about new and obscure diseases, just the three most common: chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. (HIV is categorized differently and isn’t necessarily considered an STD, since there are other ways that the disease can be transmitted besides sexual contact).

These aren’t just tiny jumps in reported cases either; this is a genuine epidemic.

Reported cases of primary and secondary syphilis have gone up 19 percent between 2014 and 2015, gonorrhea rose by 12.8 percent and chlamydia rose by 5.9 percent.

Not surprisingly, young people 15 to 24 years old account for nearly two-thirds of chlamydia cases and half of gonorrhea cases, with 20 to 24 year olds among the greatest percentage of those afflicted.

And yet, you’ll rarely see discussion of gonorrhea or syphilis on television shows, despite the fact that promiscuity has increasingly become the cornerstone of storytelling.

As far back as 2008, the Parents Television Council claimed that sex in the context of marriage was almost non-existent on TV, while extra-marital and adulterous sexual relationships were almost always portrayed positively.

Verbal references to non-marital sex outnumbered references to in-marriage sexuality by three to one.

We’ve known about the influence of pop culture’s portrayal of sex on kids for a while.

As far back as 2004, researchers were studying whether children’s understanding of sex and promiscuity was influenced by their television viewing habits.

Researcher and psychologist Rebecca Collins found that even 12 year olds who viewed sexual content on TV behaved sexually more like kids two or three years older. “The advancement in sexual behavior we saw among kids who watched a lot of sexual television was striking.”

And that was long before shows such as "Boardwalk Empire," "Game of Thrones," "Masters of Sex," and "Californication" made promiscuity mundane. The question remains, however: Does the loosening of behavioral standards and the increase in promiscuity on television simply reflect changes in culture, or are they the cause of those cultural changes?

In their 1999 book "Down the Tube," authors William Baker and George Dessart were clear about the answer: “Television is undeniably the most powerful influence on our society today.”

In 2016, with the advent of digital streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, even more households have access to content that glorifies promiscuity and downplays the likelihood of unsafe sex.

And why not?

Surveys suggest that more than half of Hollywood executives feel that adultery is not wrong. And The New York Times once reported that more than half of married men and more than one-third of married women admit to being guilty of adultery.

Way back in 1997, the Institute of Medicine published “The Hidden Epidemic: Confronting Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” in which researchers observed, “Among primetime network television shows, there is only one portrayal of protective behavior or comment regarding STDs for every 25 instances of sexual behavior shown.”

Hollywood continues to churn out shows that promote the fantasy that promiscuity has no consequences. As today’s currently high rates of STDs reveal, the public, unfortunately, continues to believe — and act — on it.

This article first appeared on Acculturated.com.

Dave Taylor is a long-time media commentator and writer, with a focus on consumer electronics and technology. He holds a Masters degree in Education and an MBA and has published over twenty books. A single father to two teens and a tween, he also moonlights as a film and media critic and calls Boulder, Colorado, home. Read more of his reports — Go Here Now.




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Hollywood continues to churn out shows that promote the fantasy that promiscuity has no consequences. As today’s currently high rates of STDs reveal, the public, unfortunately, continues to believe — and act — on it.
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Tuesday, 01 November 2016 11:07 AM
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