Sex and violence have always been in the crosshairs of parents, activists and politicians who seek to shield children from objectionable content in the media. For those who had the privilege of growing up in the 90s, you might remember technologies such as the V-chip and the formation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). The V-chip allowed parents to block TV shows and movies based on ratings, while the ESRB put ratings on video games as a response to sex and violence becoming common themes in that space as well.
According to a Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) study, sex in the media is worse than violence to parents. It’s ironic that an act responsible for creating life is seen as more offensive than one that can actually take life. In short, our desire for peace (as noted by the numerous anti-violence and anti-war campaigns that have taken place throughout history) is less important than protecting children from seeing the process of procreation (most children in public schools learn about sex anyway by middle school).
Of those polled, 80 percent of parents objected to graphic sex scenes. Full male nudity (71 percent) and full female nudity (70 percent) followed close behind, with hard drug use (70 percent) the highest non-sex scenario that parents objected to. Graphic violence (64 percent) was the highest-rated violent scenario, while profanity revolving around the F word (ironically, another sex reference, at 62 percent) scored as the highest-rated scenario that did not involve violence, sex or drugs. Half of the top ten content concerns revolved around sexual content.
While the ratings system manages to make its way into the foreground (they appear before trailer previews, movies, TV shows, video games, etc.), there are certain situations that parents believe should justify an R rating rather than a PG-13 one. Parents are quick to disapprove of sex—even frequent nudity (without sex) is enough to bump up a movie to an R rating. In comparison, violence toes the line between PG-13 and R until one uses an assault weapon, while three uses of the F word bumps up a PG-13 movie to an R one.
Many studies attempting to tie violence in the media to actual violence have been debunked. “Overall, no evidence was found to support the conclusion that media violence and societal violence are meaningfully correlated,” one study said. However, studies that have tried to tie sex in the media to actual sex were more concrete, and could even be beneficial to teens. “Shows with content about contraception and pregnancy can help to educate teens about the risks and consequences of sex—and can also foster beneficial dialogue between teens and parents.”
These study raise an age-old question: why do we decry sex more than violence in the media? One of the reasons may be because the world has only been at peace for a mere eight percent of recorded history (the New York Times counts the past 3,400 years). There are reports of people being killed by violent acts in the news on a daily basis, desensitizing us to violence. America in particular has a trend of supporting wars when they begin, but dropping support for them near the end or as casualties mount. In short, our priorities may be backwards, and we may be forgetting to “make love, not war.”