Friends powerful sex-education tool says study

November 4, 2003

LOS ANGELES — A study of the hit television comedy "Friends" has found it to be a powerful tool for sex education for youngsters.

The study, released Monday by the nonprofit research group Rand Corp., polled 500 youngsters who had watched an October 2001 show in which the character Rachel, portrayed by actress Jennifer Aniston, becomes pregnant after having sex with ex-boyfriend Ross, played by David Schwimmer.

Ross expresses surprise, noting that he had used a condom. Twice during the episode, characters say that condoms are "only 97-per- cent effective".

The episode was watched by 1.67 million 12- to 17-year-olds, the study said, citing Nielsen Media Research information.

The study found that most viewers remembered the episode contained information about condom effectiveness and that teen viewers who watched with an adult or discussed the episode with an adult were about twice as likely as others to remember the correct information about condoms.

Viewers also remembered the lessons six months later, according to the study in the November edition of the journal Pediatrics.

"We've always known that teenagers get useful information about sex from factual reporting and advice-oriented media, but now we know they can get this information from entertainment television programmes as well," said Rebecca Collins, a RAND psychologist and lead author of the report. "That's important because entertainment programmes, especially highly rated ones like 'Friends', reach many more teens."

Among teens who recalled viewing the episode, 65 per cent remembered that it involved a condom failure that caused a pregnancy.

About half the teenage viewers interpreted the episode as showing that "lots of times condoms don't prevent pregnancy".

"Our study suggests that if more shows included a message about responsible sexual behaviour and what the risks are in having sex, we might have fewer problems with teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases," Collins said. –Sapa-DPA

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