A government report has recommended that popular TV shows do not depict enough sex scenes or plotlines that cover safe sex, sexually transmitted infections or contraception.
The officials have said that after analysing 350 episodes of different episodes of soap operas and comedies, only 7% of sex scenes showed characters discussing contraception or safe sex.
Called Mis-Selling Sex, the report is to be launched by the Department of Health and will call on writers for television shows to depict their characters discussing condoms and feature plotlines showing the importance of regular chlamydia tests and visits to GUM clinics, as well as the consequences of unsafe sex.
They also said that writers should use the language of teenagers, such as slang words, in order to create a better connection with the viewers.
Gillian Merron, the Public Health Minister, said that young people relate to their favourite TV shows so it was crucial that when depicting sex, they saw a responsible attitude to sexual health.
She said, “Young people relate to the programmes they watch on TV, so it’s important that they see both realistic and responsible portrayals of sex and contraception.
“It’s not for Government to say what happens on TV, but we can have conversations with broadcasters to help them have a more positive impact on attitudes to sex.
“I’m encouraged that some broadcasters are working to address these issues, and hope others will follow suit.”
Of the programs monitored, 99 showed incidences of unsafe sex but only 9 characters regretted it afterwards. In polls of the public, 41% of people said they regretted unsafe sex. Characters did not visit a GUM clinic or get chlamydia tests and only 13% of the incidents showed characters dealing with the consequences, such as pregnancy or infection.
The government has struggled to make teenagers aware of the risks of unsafe sex and despite millions being spent promoting chlamydia testing, many are unaware that sexually transmitted infections can often have no symptoms, making testing the only way to know if they have caught anything.
Heath officials believe that over a third of teenagers get guidance on sex and relationships from the television, responding to messages about pregnancy, condoms and the need for regular chlamydia testing or sexual health screening.
The series producer for Hollyoaks, Paul Marquess, said, “”It’s really important to us and our audience that we’re clear in terms of dealing with the issues of safe sex. The programme offers a great platform to promote good sexual health.
“We know that our audience relates to the characters and their situations in the show. With our young demographic, this is particularly important and reminding viewers about the importance of safe sex is something we take very seriously.”