A new study conducted by the Parents Television Council (PTC) revealed that teenage girls on prime time television are becoming increasingly sexualized and are portrayed much more sexually than their adult counterparts. The PTC studied 25 of the most popular prime time shows for the 12-17 demographic, including shows like Glee, Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy, 90210, Big Bang Theory, and Vampire Diaries. They were looking not just for sexual acts but what they defined as “the act or process of sexualizing, the making of a person, group, or thing to be seen as sexual in nature.” The study placed these sexualizing acts in different categories based on the age of the character being played, not on the age of the actress since it is common for actors in their 20s to play high school age characters.

What they discovered was that teenage girl characters were shown participating in a higher percentage of sexual depictions (47%) than their adult counterparts (29%). 75% of the shows that included sexualized teenage girls did not have the “S” descriptor to warn parents about sexual content before the show. 98% of the sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred outside of a committed relationship. What’s more disturbing is that 73% of the underage sexualized incidents were portrayed as a punch line to a joke or in a humorous manner.

PTC President Tim Winter said, “The results from this report show Tinseltown’s eagerness to not only objectify and fetishize young girls, but to sexualize them in such a way that real teens are led to believe their sole value comes from their sexuality. This report is less about the shocking numbers that detail the sickness of early sexualization in our entertainment culture and more about the generation of young girls who are being told how society expects them to behave.”

While I wish I could say that I’m surprised at these findings, I’m really not. Television is one of my primary ways to decompress after a long day, and in the past few years I have become increasingly disturbed by the way teenage sexuality is portrayed. Sex sells and those who write and produce television use sexualization even of young teens as something of little consequence.

Yet, we are people who want to develop strong faith and purity in the lives of teens, and treating sexuality flippantly is clearly against God’s design for us. In most ministries and in parents I see an obvious concern for what this type of sexualization does in the long term for girls. When they see girls on television their own age behaving in these overly sexual ways, girls often begin to compare themselves to these televised ideals, even striving to become more sexualized themselves. Their thoughts about their bodies, the importance of purity, and the consequences of unhealthy and ungodly sexuality can be forever changed by these shows unless we are active in engaging in faith discussions about what God desires for us as sexual beings.

While I know I spend deliberate time talking with girls about their sexuality, body image, and the purity God desires for them, I have begun to worry more about my teenage boys.

They are also seeing these teenage girls treated as sexual objects and this also changes how they perceive the girls in their lives. When we desire for our boys to treat girls with respect as fellow creations of God, we fly in the face of how television tells them to treat girls. The study found only 5% of the underage female characters communicated any form of dislike for being sexualized, excluding scenes depicting healthy sexuality. This along with the humorous way female sexuality is portrayed can leads boys especially to believe that girls want to be sexualized and treated as objects.

We have to open up some conversations about what messages television is sending to both our boys and our girls. Talk to parents and give them tools to be able to start those conversations at home. Whenever there is a chance, give teens the tools to use the eyes of faith to see how television distorts God’s gift of sexuality.