What Would TV Do If Sex Didn’t Exist?

If you took all the sexual content out of their shows, TV stations would have to sign off the air by dinner time. Or so one might guess, anyway, after reading a new Kaiser Family Foundation report about sex on TV. And, as the chart indicates, the amount of sexual content has risen significantly in recent years from an already enormous base. (The study analyzed a representative sample of shows on network and local broadcast outlets, basic cable channels and one premium-cable channel.) During prime time, 77 percent of programs include sexual content. Overall, shows display an average of 5 sexual scenes per hour, up from 3.2 per hour in 1998 and 4.4 per hour in 2002. Cutting against the grain, the number of programs in which sexual intercourse “is either depicted or strongly implied” fell from 14 percent in 2002 to 11 percent this year. Still, that’s higher than the 7 percent found in 1998. For all the trashiness of reality TV, the genre is comparatively chaste—which may explain why households with children are willing to have those shows on the family TV set. The study found that 28 percent of reality shows have sexual content, vs. 92 percent of movies, 87 percent of sitcoms, 87 percent of drama series and 85 percent of soap operas.