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In other words, are the censorship & ratings of movies and other forms of art based on something more than nothing? ;) Or, in a broader sense, I am questioning the very widespread belief that kids should not be allowed to watch anything sex-related.

I am talking only the ratings/censorship based on the nudity, sex, explicitness, etc., i.e. not violence, profanity, drugs and other things movies can get bad MPAA rating (or an equivalent).

Please no anecdotal evidences, nor any discussions about whether kids should be interested in these things, or do they (should they?) understand them, and so forth. I am only interested in the direct and measurable harm aspect.

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That depends on how you define "harmful" otherwise the question is unanswerable. There obviously ARE effects, whether you consider them harmful or not is a different thing. Also, you didn't mention whether it's only direct effects or secondary? E.g. if (theoretically) there was a measurable effect of earlier sexual activity, do you include any effects that are known to be consequences of that? –  DVK Apr 29 '11 at 19:21
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You can just provide well documented examples of what You would consider harmful, or what you think other people can reasonably consider harmful, or what the researches considered harmful, etc. Sexual activity is not harmful by any stretch of imagination, on the contrary, I can provide quite a few links to researches showing it's positive effects to health - and negative effects of abstinence. –  user288 Apr 29 '11 at 19:27
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"earlier sexual activity", not simply "sexual activity". Which could theoretically include consequences such as underage pregnancy, higher rate of STDs, problems with relating to romantic partners long term (I seem to vaguely recall a study of that being a problem with hook-up culture), problems with academic stuff (due to screwing around instead of studying) etc... Please note that I'm making plausible stuff up, NOT siting specific research :) It is quite possible that none of those are proven to be even indirect effects. –  DVK Apr 29 '11 at 19:33
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Well "can theoretically include" is a speculation, "does include as proven by the research X" is a fact and a real harm. I do understand you are talking hypothetically, and I am pretty sure we both understand "harm" the same or nearly the same way. There's really not much to discuss here, and in the unlikely event you will find some sort of harm that I don't consider harmful, it's still gonna be an interesting research ;) –  user288 Apr 29 '11 at 19:39
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If only proving a negative were so easy. –  mmr May 13 '11 at 23:12

2 Answers 2

up vote 28 down vote accepted

It seems that all of the answers have gravitated towards depictions of sex. Either because nudity equals sex (while in Hollywood, this appears to generally be the case - it's extremely rare to see a nude scene that isn't purely for titillation, rather than because someone just woke up or got out of the shower), or because it hadn't occurred to them that they might be separate.

If you want to know if social nudity - namely nudity that is purely nonsexual - has any effect on children, just ask a nudist.

This document explains one nudist club's stance on the effects of social nudity on children, and cites several studies. The conclusion they reach is that there is absolutely no negative effect, and there may be a positive effect on the psyche. The basic nudist philosophy is that the extreme modesty of the Victorian era was in fact harmful (which was proven by many studies before and since), and as such, perhaps its inverse - a total lack of modesty - is beneficial.

Studies aside, nudists themselves have observed no obvious negative effects in children - very young children especially like to be naked, and generally the idea that there's nothing inherently wrong with the human body in its natural state promotes better body image in older children as well. See the bottom of the document above about Casler's study, and the older children's reactions in his interviews.

It's generally parents' negative reactions to nudity in TV and film that are most harmful to children. Especially if that reaction is particularly unhinged and panicked - see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Bowl_XXXVIII_halftime_show_controversy

Edit:

There was a paper written on this subject (actually, of children witnessing parental nudity and sexual activity, which of course, is different from what you see on TV, since parents have such a central and authoritative role in a child's life) in the Journal of Sex Research. The paper can be found on Scribd.com: http://www.scribd.com/doc/30328730/Childhood-Exposure-to-Parental-Nudity-Parent-Child-Co-Sleeping-and-Primal-Scenes

This is very likely the kind of thing (historically speaking, of course, which the paper touches on) that the MPAA and the government bases such things upon. Mostly this seems to harken back to Freud and early students thereof, who assumed that nearly every psychological disorder originated from witnessing such things as a small child. The paper linked above questions this assumption and tries to find actual clinical research to support the claim.

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According to the Rand Corporation and the American Academy of Pediatrics, watching sex on TV is correlated to earlier sexual activity.

From 1:

The results showed that heavy exposure to sexual content on television related strongly to teens’ initiation of intercourse or their progression to more advanced sexual activities (such as “making out” or oral sex) apart from intercourse in the following year. Youths who viewed the greatest amounts of sexual content were two times more likely than those who viewed the smallest amount to initiate sexual intercourse during the following year (see figure) or to progress to more-advanced levels of other sexual activity. In effect, youths who watched the most sexual content “acted older”: a 12-year-old at the highest levels of exposure behaved like a 14- or 15-year-old at the lowest levels.

From 2:

Results. Multivariate regression analysis indicated that adolescents who viewed more sexual content at baseline were more likely to initiate intercourse and progress to more advanced noncoital sexual activities during the subsequent year, controlling for respondent characteristics that might otherwise explain these relationships. The size of the adjusted intercourse effect was such that youths in the 90th percentile of TV sex viewing had a predicted probability of intercourse initiation that was approximately double that of youths in the 10th percentile, for all ages studied. Exposure to TV that included only talk about sex was associated with the same risks as exposure to TV that depicted sexual behavior. African American youths who watched more depictions of sexual risks or safety were less likely to initiate intercourse in the subsequent year.

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Hi, if you could (for the purpose of completeness) cite the relevant conclusions in brief here in your answer, I'd be very happy. Also, I would not automatically consider earlier sexual activity as harmful. Only if contraception is ignored, or if children develop psychological issues towards sex. –  Lagerbaer May 14 '11 at 16:49
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Thank you dan for your answer, but (earlier) sexual activities are by no means harmful on their own. It's still interesting researches nevertheless. –  user288 May 15 '11 at 6:01
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There are a couple of things worth noting here: the second link is way better than the first as it gives us a peer-reviewed study. The study makes some interesting points: 1. That there is a lot of simple correlation between age of sex and tv watching: teens that are interested in sex, watch a lot of sex-related tv and have sex. 2. They do correct for this against other predictors they researched, however they do not state they are sure there aren't other predictors. 3. They explicitly admit the possibility of prior interest as an explanation. Personally, I am surprised they forgot (cont...) –  Sklivvz May 15 '11 at 20:21
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(...cont) an obvious predictor such as the age of puberty. I for one would like to see how much correlation this factor takes away from the results. –  Sklivvz May 15 '11 at 20:21
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@Sejanus "(earlier) sexual activities are by no means harmful on their own." Citation required. You did clearly state in comments to your question that you left the definition of "harmful" up to the answerer. If you've decided to change your question, and choose to define harmful yourself, you should clearly state such in the question. Honestly I wish people wouldn't post such poor questions on skeptics, but I suppose it's par for the course. –  Adam Davis Jun 14 '11 at 20:49

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