There is less sex on prime-time television than many people believe. But most of the sexual references that are broadcast within a comic context, in early evening hours.

At least that's the way it was during the week beginning Oct. 11, 1975, according to a team of scholars who taped and studied the network series that were presented between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m. that week.

Their work, billed as "the first study to count the amount and kinds of sexual activity on prime-time television," will be published in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Communication next week.

The authors of the study - Susan Franzblau, Joyce N. Spratkin and Eli A. Rubinstein of the State University of New York at Stony Brook - cite a 1976 poll published in TV Guide in which 58 per cent of the respondents thought TV overemphasized sex.

Despite such widespread opinions, they say, they found no overt depictions of heterosexual intercourse or homesexual behavior of any kind in the 61 programs they studied.

They did find an averaged of 3.74 kisses and 2.63 embraces per hour.They looked for examples of "touching" in two categories - "aggressive" and "non-aggressive" - and found an average of 5.48 of the former per hour and 68.11 of the latter. Reached by phone yesterday, Rubeinstein said "aggressive touching" could roughly be defined as "pushing" or "slapping" and "non-aggressive touching" as "patting" or "stroking" - all with a sexual connotation.

If Archie Bunker poked Mike Stivic in the ribs, for example, this would not be counted, but if a suspected rapist did the same to Pepper Anderson, this would be seen as "aggressive touching."

The study divided network programming into four genres - situation comedies, variety shows, dramas and crime adventures - and found that the amount of sexual activity decreased, by genre, in that order.In the race among the genres for sexual content, situation comedies clearly led the way in the big categories of "kissing," "embracing" and "nonaggressive touching." Variety shows offered more "innuendos" and "flirting and seductiveness" than any other genre, and "crime adventures" led the aggressive touching" category, not to mention the tiny category of "rape and other sex crimes."

Because there was far more "nonaggressive touching" than any other kind of sexual behavior on the screen, "situation comedies" easily won the overall sweepstakes. And because there were nine situation comedies in the Family Hour (8-9 p.m.) and only two on the air between 9 and 11 p.m., the Family Hour emerged with more sexual activity - albeit of the most innocuous variety - than the rest of prime time combined.

Asked if the study of 1975 programming isn't out of date by now, Rubinstein said he suggests so, but he doesn't have more current data. Many of the more conspicuous treatment of sexual behavior are on daytime soaps, syndicated shows such as "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," and latenight comedy routines, and none of these was included in this study, but Rubinstein says the major purpose of the study was to provide documentation for the discussion of the treatment of sex on prime time, with its controversial Family Hour. Though a California court struck down the Family Hour for the method by which it was adopted, Rubinstein said he believes the networks are still using it voluntarily as a model for their programming decisions.

So what does it all mean - sex or the lack of it on prime-time TV? Rubinstein declined to offer any personal opinions, but he added: "I would point out that the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography report says that even viewing explicit sex does not produce any harm."