251710 Portrayal of unintended pregnancy in popular media: A content analysis

Monday, October 31, 2011

Lindsey Thompson, MPH, CHES , Prevention Research Center, UCLA/RAND, Los Angeles, CA
Theresa Devine, MPH , Office of Communications and Education, National Cancer Institute, Rockville, MD
Background: The portrayal of sexual content in popular media has been widely assessed; however, no studies have examined how unintended pregnancy is portrayed. As unintended pregnancy affects one in 20 women annually in the United States, it is critical to examine its portrayal. The goal of this study is to investigate how depictions of unintended pregnancy on primetime non-reality television compare to reality. Methods: A sampling frame of 77 storylines across 183 episodes aired between 2000 and 2010 was identified via a systematic online search. A sample of 12 storylines across 47 episodes and 1,834 minutes of programming was randomly selected for content analysis. We examined the types of characters who face unintended pregnancy, options discussed, pregnancy outcomes, and contextual factors, including relationship status and sexual activity. Results: Within the sampling frame, 76% of the storylines resulted in live birth, 9% in abortion, and 14% in miscarriage. This contrasts with reality, where 45% of unintended pregnancies result in live birth, 41% in abortion, and 14% in miscarriage. Live birth was further over-represented on broadcast networks. Within the sample, sex was referred to an average of 26 times per storyline, while contraception was referred to an average of four times. Conclusion: Findings indicate that unintended pregnancy is not portrayed realistically on primetime television. The ways in which characters make decisions have the potential to influence the health behavior of audience members by shaping the social environment, highlighting the potential for popular media as a new avenue of pregnancy prevention interventions.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
1. Describe how unintended pregnancy is portrayed on primetime non-reality based television programs. 2. Assess whether unintended pregnancy is portrayed realistically on primetime television. 3. Discuss the potential for media-based unintended pregnancy prevention interventions.

Keywords: Media, Pregnancy

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a member of the Delta Omega Honor Society.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.