On-screen nudity: BSA releases findings into impact on children

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has released new research which says it's not a bad thing for children to see on-screen nudity - if it's in context.

Youth health research organisation the Collaborative Trust reviewed local and international studies into the effect nudity on television can have on young people.

One of the key findings was that, while exposure to pornographic images (defined as content designed to sexually arouse), has negative effects on children, seeing nudity in non-sexual scenarios is less likely to cause harm.

Non-harmful contexts include nudity in art, education and the medical world. Nudity seen in a supportive environment where it can be explained by an adult was also found to pose little harm to children. 

BSA research lead Dame Sue Bagshaw says the findings show the need to educate young Kiwis about the human body and allow them to discuss and make sense of what they see.

"Nudity in context is great," she told The AM Show. "We found there was context in terms of art, education, medical stuff. But then there's nudity in the context of sex. So we have to be careful to make sure young people can interpret the context as much as they do the nudity."

The research shows children from different cultures are impacted differently by nudity.  

"Sex makes people uncomfortable because we in the west think of it as a very personal thing," Dame Sue says.

She says New Zealanders have been sheltered from a lot of international adult content in the past, but now with smartphones and social media, we're exposed to a lot more.

"We have to prepare our young people for what might pop up when they're not really searching for it."

Many studies found exposure to nudity in media has a significant impact on the attitudes and behaviour of children. Some found early exposure to sexual content can lead to "risky behaviour" like becoming sexually active at a young age and having casual sex more frequently.

BSA Chief Executive Belinda Moffat says nudity and sexual content are part of the media landscape, and have the power to inform and entertain but also to harm young people.

"Our focus is to engage with and educate broadcasters and the public, particularly parents and caregivers, to ensure that these harms may be mitigated. We will support increased media literacy so that New Zealanders can navigate the complex content world in which we all live without harm."

She says the BSA will work with broadcasters to increase the effectiveness of classifications and warnings including raising public awareness of optional tools like parental locks.

The BSA will also collaborate with agencies dedicated to promoting the wellbeing of young people.