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August 05, 2008

Study: TV portrays marital sex as boring


Marital sex on TV is "nonexistent or burdensome."

Single and extramarital sex is "glamorous" and "exciting."

That's according to the Parents Television Council, which released a study Tuesday on how sex is portrayed in broadcast primetime.

It also says those portrayals are wrong, very wrong, if not downright inaccurate.

"Everybody is having sex on TV except for married couples," PTC president Tim Winter said.

According to the study titled "Happily Never After," scenes on the major networks depicting or implying sex between nonmarried partners outnumbered similar scenes between married couples by a ratio of nearly 4-to-1. References to adultery outnumbered references to marital sex 2-to-1.

"For many years, parents have worried about television's glamorization of destructive sexual behavior," said Michael Medved, the talk radio host and PTC board member. "This important new report suggests another cause for concern: the de-glamorization of marriage. Statistics show that the overwhelming majority of Americans feel satisfied and fulfilled by their marriages. The notion that sex outside of marriage is inherently more exciting, more important, more worthy as the subject of storytelling, is a toxic message for parents and children alike."

The study also noted a rise in behaviors once considered taboo on television, including threesomes, partner swapping, pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, prostitution, masturbation, pornography, sex toys and kinky or fetishistic behaviors.

"Behaviors that were once seen as fringe, immoral, or socially destructive have been given the stamp of approval by the television industry," Winter said.

ABC had the most references to marital sex, but many of the references were negative. References to nonmarital sex were considered positive or neutral by the study team.

On NBC, references to incest, pedophilia, partner swapping, prostitution, threesomes, transsexuals/transvestites, bestiality and necrophilia combined outnumbered references to sex in marriage by a ratio of 27-to-1, the study said.

TV reporters on a conference call with Winter pointed out that broadcast primetime doesn't target kids, but adults 18-49. Winter countered that kids watch regardless and the airwaves are supposed to be public.

Also, even the most G-rated romance tends to be about a couple meeting and falling in love, not the marriage itself. There's often more dramatic material found among characters meeting than co-existing (especially if there's a bestiality threesome thrown in).

Winter noted that some shows used to conclude with a married couple peacefully laying in bed, with whatever challenges they had during the day now safely put behind them. The challenge now is that scene is considered cliche. And as shows have become more serialized, where a tense cliffhanger is considered necessary to retain viewers, stories typically conclude with high tension rather than satisfaction -- which makes being a happy and satisfied TV couple a rarity, married or not.

At any rate, check out the video from the PTC. The study was drawn from the four weeks at the beginning of the 2007-08 television season.

Also: Here's Time's James Poniewozik's take, arguing the study is flawed because it fails to include the context of the situations.

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