In Brief

As much as 68 percent of television shows during the 1999-2000 season contained sexual content, while only a handful of shows addressed safety during sex, according to Sex on TV: Covering All the Bases, a study commissioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation and conducted by psychologist Dale Kunkel, PhD, of the University of California.

The first part of the study was conducted during the 1998-99 television season and found 56 percent of shows contained sexual content. The study covered 1,114 shows from several prominent networks, including Fox, HBO and Lifetime. Sexual content was defined as including depictions of sexual intercourse, intimate touching, passionate kissing and physical flirting.

While the high percentages are not surprising, the lack of safe sex portrayals might be. During the 1998-99 season, 9 percent of shows surveyed contained any reference to sexual risks or responsibilities. The 1999-2000 season tallied only 10 percent. Kunkel also noted that almost half of the sexually involved characters had just met, or knew each other and had no established romantic relationship.

Some of the study's findings may be alarming, especially to parents. However, the study also discovered that there is a rising awareness of the public health issues associated with sexual activity. Shows depicting teen-agers involved in sexual situations were twice as likely to address the risks of unprotected sex. According to Kunkel, "programs with teen-agers...are the most likely to go beyond a mere reference to these issues, making them a major theme of the program as a whole."

To obtain a complete copy of Sex on TV: Covering All the Bases, go to the Kaiser Family Foundation Web site at