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CULTURE DIGEST: Sex scenes on TV double since ’98; New poll says children of divorce have more problems

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The number of sexual scenes on television has nearly doubled since 1998, according to a biennial study by the Kaiser Family Foundation which also found that 70 percent of all shows include some sexual content, up from 56 percent seven years ago.

The study, called “Sex on TV 4,” also found that one in nine prime-time network shows with sex include a reference for risks or responsibilities, which observers say is helpful but leaves plenty of room for improvement.

“Given how high the stakes are, the messages TV sends teens about sex are important,” Vicky Rideout, a Kaiser vice president who oversaw the study, said in a Nov. 9 news release. “Television has the power to bring issues of sexual risk and responsibility to life in a way that no sex ed class or public health brochure really can.”

Researchers examined a representative sample of more than 1,000 hours of programming, and all sexual content, including talk about sex and sexual behavior, was measured.

Among the findings:

— Sex is more common during prime-time hours with nearly eight in 10 shows including sexual content, averaging 5.9 sexual scenes per hour.

— Two-thirds of all shows include talk about sex and 35 percent of all shows include sexual behaviors.

— The percentage of shows with sexual content by genre includes movies with 92 percent, sitcoms with 87 percent, drama series with 87 percent and soap operas with 85 percent, the study said.

— Among the 20 most highly rated shows for teen viewers, just 10 percent of those with sexual content include a reference to sexual risks or responsibilities at some point in the episode.

— Only about half of all scenes related to intercourse involve characters who have an established relationship with one another, Kaiser found.

POLL SAYS CHILDREN OF DIVORCE NEGATIVELY AFFECTED — While experts on both sides continue to debate whether children whose parents divorce face more problems in life, a recent survey found that even when divorced parents are civil to one another, children are dealt tougher challenges than those whose parents remain married.

“All the happy talk is designed to reassure parents,” Elizabeth Marquardt, author of the study of 1,500 people ages 18 to 35, told The New York Times. “But it’s not the truth for children. Even a good divorce restructures children’s childhoods and leaves them traveling between two distinct worlds. It becomes their job, not their parents’, to make sense of those two worlds.”

The 35-year-old Marquardt, who reported the study in her book “Between Two Worlds,” is believed to be the first child of divorce to publish an extensive look at how the ending of a marriage affects children, The Times said Nov. 5.

Though the divorce rate in America may be slowing down, about three-quarters of a million American children endure a parental divorce each year.

In her book, Marquardt said children who grew up in divorced families were far more likely than those with married parents to say that they felt like a different person with each parent, that they sometimes felt like outsiders in their own home and that they had been alone a lot as a child, The Times said.

But Robert Emery, director of the Center for Children, Families and the Law at the University of Virginia, told The Times that the key to successfully emerging from a divorced family is to separate pain from pathology.

“While a great many young people from divorced families report painful memories and ongoing troubles regarding family relationships, the majority are psychologically normal,” he stated.

Based on her survey, Marquardt holds to her hypothesis that divorce is rarely good for children.

“Children of divorce feel less protected by their parents, and they’re much less likely to go to their parents for comfort when they are young, or for emotional support when they are older,” she told The Times.

CDC REPORTS 19 MILLION NEW STD CASES LAST YEAR — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning of an alarming increase in the syphilis rate in the United States, which increased for the fourth consecutive year in 2004, and analysis suggests that approximately 64 percent of all cases last year were among men who have sex with men, up from just 5 percent in 1999.

The CDC report also found that in 2004 the gonorrhea rate reached an all-time low and chlamydia rates increased, possibly because of expanded and improved screening, the government agency said in a Nov. 8 news release.

CDC officials estimate that 19 million cases of sexually transmitted disease infections, including HIV and other non-notifiable STDs, occur each year, resulting in direct medical costs of about $13 billion annually.

Though it is complicated and not fully understood, the mixed picture of sexually transmitted diseases could be caused by better detection methods, increased risky behavior among homosexual men, a possible cyclical nature of syphilis outbreaks and budgetary constraints among state and local health departments, The New York Times said Nov. 9.

FDA FURTHER ENDORSES CONDOMS — In a 63-page report, the Food and Drug Administration said Nov. 10 that when used correctly, latex condoms greatly reduce the risk of pregnancy and disease. The report is intended to directly influence the labels for condom packaging and to provide more recent information about effectiveness, according to The New York Times.

FDA officials said latex condoms are “highly effective” at preventing infection by HIV, gonorrhea, Chlamydia and other STDs. They also show that the typical pregnancy rate after six months’ reliance on condoms is 5.4 percent to 7.9 percent.

But Sen. Tom Coburn, R.-Okla., was not pleased with the results of the study after sponsoring the legislation that produced it, The Times noted.

“Today’s misleading recommendations by the FDA are the latest example where the agency has put the public at risk by providing inaccurate information about condoms,” the senator said on his website.

Coburn, a practicing physician, has said condom labels provide misleading and dangerous reassurances that such devices protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Among his complaints was that condoms have never undergone FDA approved clinical trials to demonstrate safety and effectiveness in protecting against STDs.

“The FDA should stop playing political games with the health and lives of Americans and immediately comply with the law by ensuring only medically accurate information that is irrefutable on condom labels,” Coburn said.

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  • Erin Curry