Sexy Media a Siren Call to Promiscuity: Study
April 6, 2006
A study of 1,017 youths in North Carolina has found that exposure to high levels of sexual content in media pushes young people to engage in intercourse earlier.
Researchers checked in with the adolescents at ages 12-14 and followed up two years later. The youths were evaluated for their exposures to 264 items -- including movies, TV shows, music and magazines -- that were analyzed for sexual content. Previously, such research had been limited to TV.
The results showed more sexual activity among those with the highest levels of exposure to sexual media content. In the group with the most exposure, white teens were 2.2 times more likely to have had intercourse at ages 14-16 than similar youths with the least exposure.
The effect was less pronounced for black youths; the researchers speculated their black subjects were already more sexually experienced than the white youths when the research began and so were less influenced by media during the study.
The fact that many parents are reluctant to participate in comprehensive sexual discussions with their children creates an information vacuum, the researchers said, in which media function as a sex educator, offering "frequent and compelling portraits of sex as fun and risk free."
The report noted that "one of the strongest predictors of risk for early sexual intercourse for both black and white teens [in the study] was the perception that his or her peers were having sex." Youths "may begin to adopt the media's social norms as their own," the report said, and some who lack alternative models for sexual norms "may use the media as a kind of sexual superpeer that encourages them to be sexually active."
"It took many studies over a number of years to establish that violence in the media increased children's violent behavior and to begin initiatives to reduce harmful effects. Given the consistent findings regarding media violence, it may be prudent not to wait decades to conclude that the media are also important sources of sexual norms for youth," the study said.
Because the research was undertaken in 2001 when few of the youths had Internet access, the researchers said additional research should be conducted to ascertain the effects of exposure to Web-based material.
The new study, "Sexy Media Matter: Exposure to Sexual Content in Music, Movies, Television, and Magazines Predicts Black and White Adolescents' Sexual Behavior," was published in Pediatrics (2006;117(4):1018-1027). Previously, a portion of the data was included in the study "The Mass Media Are An Important Context for Adolescents' Sexual Behavior" published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (2006;38(3):186-192).
04.03.2006; Michael Conton
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.