A new study suggests that how TV shows about teenage pregnancy — like MTV's "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" — are interpreted by teenage girls depends on their family background.
Critics of these shows suggest that they glamorized teenage pregnancy, while supporters said they discouraged it. A new study, published in the journal Sexuality & Culture, suggests they're both right.
"The programs were developed to show young women how difficult it is to be a teen mom," study researcher Paul Wright, of Indiana University, said in a statement. "They were intended to be program-length public service announcements discouraging teen pregnancy.
"But critics said the programs sent mixed messages. My viewing of the programs suggested the same," Wright said. "On one hand, the programs do show many of the difficulties teen mothers face. But on the other hand, they sometimes seem to send the message that getting pregnant was all for the best.
For this study, survey data were collected from 313 female undergraduates at two universities in the southwestern United States. All participants were unmarried. About 40 percent were 19 or younger. About 75 percent were 21 or younger. College students are a key audience for MTV.
White participants comprised 56.5 percent of the sample, while others were Hispanic (18.5 percent), Asian (13.1 percent), African-American (4.2 percent) and Middle Eastern (1 percent). Whites were more likely than nonwhites to view both programs, which may be because most of the mothers on the programs also are white.
The researchers found that frequent viewers of the programs whose fathers often communicated about sex with them while they were growing up were the least likely to have recently had sex.
Conversely, frequent viewers of the programs whose fathers rarely communicated about sex with them while they were growing up were the most likely to have recently had sex.
"Fathers who communicate with daughters about sex are especially apt to talk about the negatives of premarital sex, to speak of males' propensity for placing sexual pressure on females, and to point out the consequences that result from the risky sexual behavior of others," the researchers wrote in the paper. "Females who have been regularly sent these types of messages should be especially likely to attend to the negatives of being a young mother depicted on '16 and Pregnant' and 'Teen Mom.'"
No interaction was found in the study between mother-daughter sexual communication, viewing frequency and recent intercourse behavior.
"In this study, there was only what we call an 'interaction' for fathers," Wright said. "But this doesn't mean that mother-daughter communication is irrelevant. There are other studies showing that the more moms communicate about sex, the less likely it is their daughters will either have sex or engage in risky sex."