July 15, 2008 -- Sex today seems to be everywhere. It's certainly more present in the public square than before. But how big a problem is this?
When I was growing up, many people believed that sex must be kept out of sight, because it would corrupt the minds of children and lead to sexually deviant behavior.
That was why when Lucille Ball, the star of the popular television show "I Love Lucy," got pregnant, the decision to show her expanding belly was considered shocking and a breakthrough, even though the word "pregnant" was never spoken.
'Television Is Going Downhill Fast'
When I was a kid, even the innocent movie "Pillow Talk" was considered shocking because it talked about the bedroom. Reviewers said the movie "sizzles with sex" and "comes close to the forbidden border."
Yet today, PG movies, like "Hairspray," cheerfully feature a flasher and joke about teen pregnancy. And television has traveled miles from "I Love Lucy." Now, even on family television shows, sex is a regular story line, and that bothers a lot of people.
"The intention is clearly to bring up this sexual desire, and I don't think that's beneficial for our society," said Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council.
Particularly disturbing, said Sprigg, is what children are seeing. "They are being exposed to sex and to talk about sex, before they're even old enough to even think about having sex."
Sprigg added, "Television is going downhill fast, and the programmers sometimes seem to me to be racing each other to see how they can push the envelope in terms of negative sexual content."
The Family Research Council, and similar groups, feel there is a tremendous cost to society from this type of media exposure to sex. "I see the harm in the rise of sexually transmitted diseases," said Sprigg. "I see the harm in the increase in out of wedlock pregnancies and births. We see the harm in the increase in single-parent households. All of these things have significant harm for the country."
'It's Not Dangerous'
"There are groups of people out there who are devoted to scaring the heck out of Americans about sexuality," said sociologist and sex therapist Marty Klein, author of "America's War on Sex." Klein said, "It makes some people feel good because they say, 'Aha, there's the enemy and if only we could do something about that, everything would be better.'"
Klein adds the dire predictions of anti-sex crusaders have not happened, and that despite all the increased sex in America, most of the news is good.
Statistics prove Klein has a point. Over the past decade the rape rate has dropped, as has the birthrate among teen girls. And this happened, as not just the media but as the world around us seemed to be coarser. There's sexy lingerie shown on scantily clad mannequins in store windows. And there's sex all over kids' computers.
Protesters once picketed stores that dared sell Playboy magazine and Penthouse, but now little kids with e-mail accounts get spam offering penis enlargers.
That's why people like Sprigg believe we need tougher regulations on pornography, and we need to protect children from sexual images.
But Marty Klein feels that's easier said than done. "The truth is children think about sex whether we want them to or not, children think about sex. Children don't need our help to think about sex. The issue really is," said Klein, "Is the stuff out there that you and I don't like, is it dangerous? And the good news is that for the most part, the unsavory sexual things that people are exposed to aren't dangerous -- they may be unpleasant, but they're not dangerous."