4.7 Sexual Innuendos Per Hour

(Updated)

At Conservative Home, Tim Montgomerie notes Nadine Dorries MP’s introduction of a Ten Minute Rule Bill on abstinence education for girls:

The Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire is not saying abstinence should be the only message for children but that it should be part of the overall message. Our schools should be saying to children – bombarded by a culture that encourages sexual experimentation – that it’s okay to wait and that there can be big benefits from doing so.

Ms Dorries quoted Joan Bakewell, now a Labour peer, and her analysis of what TV throws at us in prime time: “A typical prime time hour contains 2.6 references to intercourse, 1.2 references to prostitution and rape, 4.7 sexual innuendos, 1.8 kisses and 1 suggestive gesture. Not to mention internet, phones.”

It looks like the quote was given to Montgomerie in advance: in the actual debate, Dorries didn’t mention either the “kisses” or the “suggestive gesture” – see Hansard (I also checked against Parliament’s video stream):

Dame Joan said that our society is saturated in sex: a typical prime-time hour on TV contains 2.6 references to intercourse, 1.2 references to prostitution and rape, and 4.7 sexual innuendoes.

This is somewhat botched. Dorries’ speech references an article on the sexual revolution which Joan Bakewell wrote last year for the Radio Times (5-11 June 2010, pp. 122-3), but Bakewill did not come up with these statistics she did not cite them. Bakewell’s original piece is not on-line (although I’ve seen it), but it was discussed and quoted widely in other media at the time; it is almost certain that Dorries has drawn on these secondary sources, and none of these include any reference to the statistics either.

The statistics’ provenance is another reason Bakewell would not have used them: they are actually a boilerplate talking-point which has been doing the rounds on Christian websites for years, sometimes attributed to a “Florida State University study”. One example of their use is the 1993 book by Bill Hybels and Rob Wilkins, entitled Tender Love: God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy. According to them:

According to one study, a typical network prime-time hour contains an average of 1.6 references to intercourse, 1.2 references to prostitution and rape, 4.7 sexual innuendoes, 1.8 kisses, and 1.0 suggestive gestures.

Note that Dorries has sloppily upped “1.6 references to intercourse” to “2.6”, but it’s clearly the same source. A variation appeared in a secular publication, Entertainment Weekly, in 1992:

According to a Florida State University study published last fall, a typical network prime-time hour contains an average of 1.58 references to intercourse, 1.17 references to prostitution and rape, 4.68 sexual innuendos, 1.76 kisses, and 0.99 suggestive gestures. On average, the study says, TV characters today talk about sex or display sexual behavior 15 times an hour — or once every four minutes.

So, the source is old, obscure, American, and propagated for the most part by evangelical websites. The statistics are also hopelessly decontextualized: what kind of “references” are meant? A much more sensible and relevant source for Dorries to work with would have been Mis-selling Sex: A Study of the Representation of Sex on British Television Screens, which was published in 2010 as part of the NHS’s “Sex: Worth Talking About” campaign.

Dorries’ use of the American statistics would appear to be more evidence that she is is getting her talking points directly from Christian Right lobby groups such as Christian Concern.

Footnote

Ironically, the origin of the American statistics is perhaps a study undertaken in 1987 for Planned Parenthood. According to the New York Times in January 1988:

Americans are bombarded by sexual messages on network television but are hardly ever reminded of the results of sex, according to a study conducted for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and made public yesterday.

The study, by Louis Harris & Associates, concluded that 65,000 sexual references a year are broadcast during the prime afternoon and evening hours. That’s an average of 27 an hour, the study noted, including 9 kisses, 5 hugs, 10 sexual innuendos and between 1 and 2 references each to sexual intercourse and to ”deviant or discouraged sexual practices.”

…Announcing the results of the study, the federation president, Faye Wattleton, said: ”Clearly the American television networks are doing us -their viewers – a tremendous disservice. They obviously see no need to balance their overly romanticized and unrealistic portrayals of sex with messages about responsibility.”

8 Responses

  1. [...] on the subject of fiction, Richard Bartholomew has kindly tackled the statistics cited by Dorries – and attributed to Dame Joan Bakewell – in her speech in relation to [...]

  2. [...] Richard Bartholomew points out another one of Dorries’ faults: Statistics… Dorries’ speech referenced an interview on the sexual revolution which Joan Bakewell gave last year in the Radio Times, but Bakewill did not come up with these statistics and I find it doubtful that she would have cited them. [...]

  3. [...] on the subject of fiction, Richard Bartholomew has kindly tackled the statistics cited by Dorries – and attributed to Dame Joan Bakewell – in her speech in relation to [...]

  4. [...] actually another business run by Andy Barr, who co-owns 10Yetis. The Bill  – brought forward by Nadine Dorries MP – was discussed in Parliament a few days ago, and the survey provided the hook for Babychild [...]

  5. [...] statistics cited by Dorries do not appear anywhere in Bakewell’s article: as I blogged here, their actual source is obscure, although they are at least 20 years old and refer to the USA. [...]

  6. [...] (it’s also a different figure to the one she cited in Parliament in May). And secondly, the figures she regurgitated (“recently” recorded, apparently) had already been whisked off to a lab and [...]

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