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It's Better on TV: Does Television Set Teenagers Up for Regret Following Sexual Initiation?



CONTEXT: Two-thirds of sexually experienced teenagers in the United States say they wish they had waited longer to have intercourse for the first time. Little is known about why such a large proportion of teenagers express disappointment about the timing of their initial experience with sex.

METHODS: Data on television viewing, on regret about the timing of first intercourse and on potentially relevant covariates were obtained from a national, three-year (2001–2004) longitudinal survey of adolescents aged 12–17 at baseline. Logistic regression and path analysis were used to examine the association between exposure to sex on television and the likelihood of regret following sexual initiation, the extent to which shifts in expectations about the positive consequences of sex mediate this association and whether these relationships differ by gender.

RESULTS: Sixty-one percent of females and 39% of males who had sex for the first time during the study period reported that they wished they had waited to have sex. Exposure to sexual content on television was positively associated with the likelihood of regret following sexual initiation among males (coefficient, 0.34) but not females. The association among males was partly explained by a downward shift in males' sex-related outcome expectancies following sexual initiation.

CONCLUSIONS: Interventions that limit teenagers' exposure to televised sexual content, that provide a more accurate portrayal of sexuality than typically depicted on television or that help adolescents think critically about televised sexual content may help teenagers make more carefully considered decisions about sexual debut.