On TV, Married Sex Is Ho-Hum, but Affairs Are Hot

Parents Television Council: Broadcast Prime Time Undermines Marriage

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The Parents Television Council is accusing broadcast networks of showing sex between married couples as boring, burdensome or nonexistent, while depicting extramarital sex as positive.
A series such as 'Desperate Housewives' on ABC might contain plenty of positive portrayals of nonmarried sex.
A series such as 'Desperate Housewives' on ABC might contain plenty of positive portrayals of nonmarried sex. Credit: ABC

In a new report released today, the group said that during prime time, verbal references to nonmarital sex outnumber references to sex in marriage nearly 3 to 1, and scenes implying sex between unmarried partners outnumbered similar scenes between married couples 4 to 1.

Where is the love?
PTC said the study, titled "Happily Never After: How Hollywood Favors Adultery and Promiscuity Over Marital Intimacy on Prime Time Broadcast TV," observed 207.5 hours of scripted prime-time series during four weeks from Sept. 23 to Oct. 22, 2007.

That time frame covers a few early weeks of the overall TV season, when plotlines get set up and the action is likely to be more vivid, as networks try to hook viewers in for the long haul, especialy brand-new shows that are looking to develop a weekly audience.

PTC President Tim Winter said the study results "suggest that many in Hollywood are actively seeking to undermine marriage by consistently showing it in a negative manner."

"The American people need to hold the networks and their broadcast affiliates accountable for pushing questionable content into their homes over publicly owned airwaves. Advertisers too must be held accountable for the messages they underwrite with their advertising dollars and the social cost of supporting those messages," he said.

Mr. Winter said the PTC is not seeking a return to the days of "Father Knows Best" or the old TV code, but he said the TV networks have gone overboard in their desire to shock.

Networks play the field
Of all the networks, ABC had the most references to marital sex, but many of the references were negative. References to nonmarital sex, by contrast, were almost universally positive or neutral. In 46 hours of programming, NBC contained only one reference to marital sex, but 11 references to nonmarital sex and one reference to adultery. On NBC, there were as many depictions of adults having sex with minors as there were scenes implying or depicting sex between married partners. Fox broadcast only one reference to marital sex in 24.5 hours of programming, but 18 references to nonmarital sex and five references to adultery.

He said sexual behaviors that were off-limits on broadcast TV in the past are now regularly mentioned. References to incest, pedophilia, partner swapping, prostitution, threesomes, transsexuals/transvestites, bestiality and necrophilia combined outnumbered references to sex in marriage on NBC by a ratio of 27 to 1.

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