Date of Award

Spring 2012

Document Type



Communication Studies

First Advisor

Alan Hansen

Second Advisor

Jeffrey Morris

Third Advisor

Doreen Kutufam


The prevailing perception is that we have experienced a cultural shift in that today’s TV content is markedly more risqué than it has been in the past. In this study, I investigate this view with a content analysis of sexual reference and sexual content in a convenience sample of five popular TV shows: Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, Growing Pains, Full House, and Two & a Half Men. The purpose of this study was to determine if, and in what manner, sexual content on TV has changed over the past 50 years. I found that sexual reference and sexual content on TV programming has increased from the earliest to the most recent programs. Results of the content analysis on sexual content also were compared to national averages of sexual behavior during this time period. I report that high school student are engaging in sexual behavior at a younger age, with more multiple partners, and a lack of caution. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2009), 46 percent of high school students had already had sexual intercourse and 77 percent of these students did not use any form of birth control. I concluded that, given a trend of increased sexual content on the prime time TV programs analyzed, it is possible that sexual content on television programming is penetrating the minds of young people under the approach that “sex sells.”