contraception in 50 episodes studied (Greenberg and Busselle, 1994). Most music videos and rock music lyrics, which frequently target adolescents, have strong sexual content (Sherman and Dominick, 1986; Strasburger, 1989). Other forms of media, including cable television, movies, and videotapes, also frequently portray sexual incidents (Brown and Steele, 1996).
Although sex is frequently portrayed on television, protective behavior is rarely shown and references to adverse consequences are rare; casual unprotected intercourse is presented as the norm. Lowry and Shidler (1993) found that there were approximately 25 instances of sexual behavior portrayed on prime-time television for every one instance of protective behavior shown or comment regarding STDs or unintended pregnancy. In addition, the references to protective behavior were portrayed in a nonserious manner. Another study estimated that the average teenager will be exposed to almost 14,000 television messages associated with sex annually, but less than 1 percent of these messages will deal with contraception, refraining from sex, or STDs (Harris and Associates, 1988). There is some evidence that producers may be starting to decrease the sexual content of some television shows (Lowry and Schidler, 1993; Olson, 1994).
In addition to serving as a source of information, mass media may influence social attitudes, and sometimes social behavior. For example, depictions of violence in the mass media have been shown to be a significant factor in real-life violence (Strasburger, 1995). The ability of sexual content in mass media to directly affect sexual behavior is unclear because appropriate longitudinal studies have not been conducted (Strasburger, 1995), but such content has been shown to influence adolescents' attitudes and beliefs regarding sex (Strasburger, 1992, 1995; Buerkel-Rothfuss and Strouse, 1993; Greenberg et al., 1993; Strouse and Buerkel-Rothfuss, 1993). One study found an association between frequent viewing of television programs with strong sexual content and early onset of sexual intercourse among adolescents, but it was not possible to distinguish which factor came first (Brown and Newcomer, 1991). Another recent study that examined the influence of mass media on eight potentially risky behaviors, including sexual intercourse, found that adolescents who had engaged in more risky behaviors listened to radio and watched music videos and movies on television more frequently than those who had engaged in fewer risky behaviors, independent of demographic factors (Klein et al., 1993).
The reluctance and past refusal of mass media to become involved in the dissemination of information regarding STDs and other sexual issues is not new. In his book on the social history of STDs, Brandt (1985) writes about an incident in November 1934. The Columbia Broadcast Company scheduled a live radio broadcast with Thomas Parran, Jr., then New York State Commissioner of Health, to talk about the major public health problems of the time. Just before airtime, Parran was told that he could not mention syphilis or gonorrhea by name. In response, Parran abruptly canceled his appearance and never delivered his talk. He went on to criticize the hypocritical standards in radio broadcasting that