Toronto Star

February 14, 1999

No sex, please we're busy watching

Antonia Zerrbislas, Toronto Star

Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex.

Everybody's talking about it but the only folks who seem to be doing it are the fake ones on TV.

Consider two much-publicized U.S. studies released last week.

One, in The Journal Of The American Medical Association, reported that 43 per cent of women and 31 per cent of men suffer from some form of sexual dysfunction, including lack of interest or pleasure.

Even though, it turns out, the study was sponsored by the maker of the penis-pumping Viagra, there's no evidence the figures are flawed - although the high dysfunction levels are astounding, even to experts.

The other study is from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health philanthropy which, after analyzing 1,351 TV shows from the 1997-98 season, reported that 56 per cent depicted sexual conduct - defined as everything from talk about sex to passionate kissing to physical groping to simulated intercourse.

In prime time, the sex quotient rose to 67 per cent.

Imagine if they had included newscasts.

TV has become so sex-obsessed that, if you're not doing it, the medium will mock you. Not long ago, Jay Leno was on about how Monicagate phone-taper Linda Tripp hadn't had it in seven years.

But this is not exactly stop-the-presses news.

On one network, one night last week, Friends' Phoebe busted out of her bra for Chandler, who has been going at it with Monica. Later, Frasier was in and out of his clothes while trying to bed his station's new P.R. director. That was followed by the sexual escapades of the is-he-or-isn't-he-gay assistant on Veronica's Closet. Then, E.R.'s Carter performed a thong-ectomy on med student Lucy.

That none of the acts were consummated is irrelevant. What is relevant is that TV characters seem to have much more fun than TV viewers except, perhaps, on Dawson's Creek, where Dawson and Joey prefer to agonize over losing their virginity rather than actually losing it, and on The X-Files, where sex is alien to Mulder and Scully - although they shower together tonight.

Incidentally, the Kaiser Foundation also reports that, of the 88 scenes it documented that actually depict intercourse, not one included ``even a passing reference to sexual risks or responsibilities.''

Not that everybody needs to wave a rubber every time they get naked but, in an age when a million U.S. teens a year get pregnant and 3 million are infected with sexually transmitted diseases, you'd think that Hollywood would assume some responsibility. Especially in an age when so many people get so much of their information from TV.

This is not to say that TV doesn't provide how-tos and other sex facts.

The airwaves are still sizzling from TVO's presentation last week of Maya Gallus' Erotica. There are also regular series: WTN's Sunday Night Sex Show with Sue Johanson, City's SexTv, Life's Eros - to name a few. Plus it seems that, every other commercial break on late-night TV, we're inundated with sex lines, dating lines and videos showing how to make better love more often with more people.

And, of course, with Valentine's Day, there's even more of the squishy thing. For example, WTN has a not-about-Viagra sex special, So Simple, So Hard, at 3 while Discovery has The Science Of Kissing at 8.

But tomorrow, when the hearts-and-flowers marketers move on to bunnies and eggs, TV will still be breathing heavily.

Not that there's anything wrong with that - although sex has become a downright cliché. Every other sitcom makes me want to light up a cigarette and cuddle.

The irony is that critics complain too much sex on TV leads to too much sex in real life, particularly among kids. But no credible research has ever proved that TV ``drives behaviour.''

Maybe we're simply a nation of voyeurs

In other words, watching TV characters do something - anything - doesn't mean audiences will ape the acts. Of course, the odd person is susceptible. But, if TV affected the masses, we who grew up in the Father Knows Best '50s wouldn't have ended up rolling in the mud at Woodstock.

What TV does do, and very well - mostly during the commercials - is reveal the possibilities, by showing a perfect world in which shiny, happy, beautiful people are enjoying all this stuff that will make us look 30 pounds thinner and 30 years younger if only we whip out our credit cards.

Sex, fortunately, is free - at least it's supposed to be.

But if that Viagra-sponsored study is correct, we ain't buying.

Which can lead me to only one conclusion. Maybe we're just too busy watching. Maybe we're a society of voyeurs.

Of course, it would help if we unplugged the TV in the bedroom.

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