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Sexuality and the media. American culture. Sexuality is less accepted than violence. Why?. Negative effects of sex However, violence certainly has its negative effects “Puritan” morality More apparent than real Belief in the innocence of children.

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Sexuality and the media

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american culture
American culture
  • Sexuality is less accepted than violence
  • Negative effects of sex
    • However, violence certainly has its negative effects
  • “Puritan” morality
    • More apparent than real
  • Belief in the innocence of children

“A TV network censored a sequence of John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony, which showed a mare giving birth, but broadcast the rather hideous sequence from The Godfather showing a beheaded horse.”


“We now arrive at what turns out to be—possibly through a kind of default—the most pervasive and consistent influence upon youth in the area of sexuality—the mass media.”

    • Internet campus

“Each year, a typical teen-ager views nearly 15,000 sexual references, innuendoes and jokes on television, of which fewer than 170 deal with abstinence, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.” (CNN)


Television exposes children to adult behaviors, like sex. But it usually does not show the risks and results of early sexual activity. On TV, sexual activity is shown as normal, fun, exciting, and without any risks. Your child may copy what she sees on TV in order to feel more grown up.

  • (American Academy of Pediatrics)

Source: Alan

Guttmacher Institute

percentage of high school students who ever had sexual intercourse by sex and race ethnicity 2007
Percentage of High School Students Who Ever Had Sexual Intercourse, by Sex* and Race/Ethnicity,** 2007

* M > F

** B > H > W

National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2007

Percentage of High School Students Who Were Currently Sexually Active,* by Sex and Race/Ethnicity,** 2007

* Had sexual intercourse with at least one person during the 3 months before the survey.

** B > H > W

National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2007

percentage of high school students who were currently sexually active 1991 2007
Percentage of High School Students Who Were Currently Sexually Active,* 1991 – 2007

* Had sexual intercourse with at least one person during the 3 months before the survey.

1 Decreased 1991-2007, p < .05

National Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, 1991 – 2007

Percentage of High School Students Who Had Sexual Intercourse for the First Time Before Age 13 Years, by Sex* and Race/Ethnicity,** 2007

* M > F

** B > H > W

National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2007

Percentage of High School Students Who Used a Condom During Last Sexual Intercourse,* by Sex** and Race/Ethnicity,*** 2007

* Among the 35.0% of students nationwide who had sexual intercourse with at least one person during the 3 months before the survey.

** M > F*** B > W

National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2007


According to a survey commissioned by NBC News and People magazine, the vast majority of 13- to 16-year-olds, 87%, report that they have not had sexual intercourse, and 73% report having not been sexually intimate at all. Three quarters of them say they have not because they feel they are too young, and just as many say they have made a conscious decision not to.


The same survey found that, while only 27% of 13- to 16-year-olds had been involved in intimate or sexual activity, 8% had had a casual sexual relationship, which has been described by one journalist as a "profound shift in the culture of high school dating and sex."


In his book, Why Gender Matters, researcher Leonard Sax states that teenage sexual encounters are increasingly taking place outside the context of romantic relationships, in purely sexual "hookups."


American media are thought to be the most sexually suggestive in the Western Hemisphere. The average American adolescent will view nearly 14 000 sexual references per year, yet only 165 of these references deal with birth control, self-control, abstinence, or the risk of pregnancy or STDs.29,30


In a recent content analysis, 56% of all programs on American television were found to contain sexual content. The so-called “family hour” of prime-time television (8:00 to 9:00 pm) contains on average more than 8 sexual incidents, which is more than 4 times what it contained in 1976. Nearly one third of family-hour shows contain sexual references, and the incidence of vulgar language is also increasing.

teen sources of sex information time cnn poll 1998
Teen sources of sex information:(Time/CNN poll, 1998)
  • Friends 45%
  • TV 29%
  • Parents 7%
  • Sex Educ 3%
how often think about sex
How often think about sex

Source: Michael, Gagnon, Laumann, and Kolata

media depictions of sexuality
Media depictions of sexuality
  • Sexuality is common across all major media
  • The sexuality exhibits certain tendencies that do not reflect the physical world
  • The characteristics of sexual content often present potentially troubling moral and behavioral implications

Content analysis revealed that sexual content was frequent and diverse. Prime-time soap operas and sitcoms led the way with their scripted innuendo and sexual encounters. Viewers were exposed to visual depictions and verbal references to sexual content including partial nudity and pixilated nudity, adultery, oral sex, masturbation, pornography, anal sex, incest, and homosexuality.

  • There were 677 sexual scenes or spoken sexual references, or 3.76 per hour.
  • Since 2000-2001, the incidence of sexual content has increased by 22.1%.

114 of 208 episodes contained sexual content, or 54.8%.

  • CW had the least sexual content with 1.51 instances per hour.
  • ABC had the most sexual content with 5.97 instances per hour.
  • 24 (Fox) and Standoff (Fox) were the cleanest scripted series, with no sexual content.
  • The War at Home (Fox) had the most sexual content with 33 instances per hour.
  • Scripted television had 5.13 instances of sexual content per hour, game shows had 0.23, and unscripted shows had 1.48 per hour.
the nature of sex on tv
The nature of sex on TV
  • Rarely explicit
  • Innuendos are rampant
  • Often occurs in humorous context
who s doing it
Who’s doing it?
  • References to premarital and extramarital sexual encounters outnumbered references to sex between married couples by at least 6:1 (Greenberg & Hofshire, 2000)
  • In soap operas, as high as 24:1 for unmarried v. married partners (Lowry & Towles, 1989)
  • 32:1 in R-rated movies with teens (Greenberg et al., 1993)
    • Nudity occurred in all R-rated films in sample, with female nudity outnumbering male nudity 4:1
additional concerns
Additional concerns
  • Does the portrayal respect the characters?
    • One of the most common portrayals in forensic shows, pornography shows sexual violence perpetrated against the woman
    • Sitcoms are heavily laced with lewd comments about women’s bodies, treatment of women as sexual targets or men as inadequate
    • Degrading treatment of women (and occasionally men)
  • Men are typically more aroused than women are, especially in response to sexually violent or dehumanizing materials
    • (Harris and Scott, 2002)
  • Sexual violence may be especially arousing to sex offenders and other violence-prone men and even to “normal” men if the victim is portrayed as being aroused by the assault
men and women differ in their response to sexual film
Men and women differ in their response to sexual film
  • Men and women usually differ in the intensity of their self-reported sexual arousal to sexual film clips, with women reporting lower levels. Also, men and women commonly report different emotional reactions to the presentation of sexual stimuli: Men report more positive and women more negative feelings.

Men and women were presented with 20 short film clips depicting heterosexual interactions. Half of the clips were previously selected by women; the other half by men.

  • Although overall, men and women differed in sexual arousal to the sexual films, this difference was most pronounced for the male-selected film clips. Gender differences in arousal were small to absent for the clips selected by women. Also, men and women experienced higher levels of sexual arousal to clips selected for individuals of their own gender.
  • The degree of arousal is not highly correlated to the degree of explicitness of the media
    • Sometimes cutting away and allowing the individual to fill in the details with his/her own ideas is more arousing than witnessing explicit portrayals
effects of exposure to weekly pornographic films
Effects of exposure to weekly pornographic films
  • Less satisfaction with the affection, physical appearance, sexual curiosity, and sexual performance of their real-life partners.
  • Saw sex without emotional involvement as being relatively more important than did the control group. They also showed greater acceptance of premarital and extramarital sex and placed lesser value on marriage and monogamy.
  • Less desire to have children and greater acceptance of male dominance and female submission.
    • Zillman & Bryant, 1988
male attitudes toward sexual violence
Male attitudes toward sexual violence
  • Between 25 and 57% of college men reported that they might rape if they were sure they would not get caught.
    • (Check, 1985; Malamuth, Haber & Feshbach, 1980)
  • Consumption of violent pornography, but not nonviolent pornography, predicted self-rated likelihood to rape (Demare et al., 1988).
availability of pornography and sexual violence
Availability of pornography and sexual violence
  • Research results are inconsistent
  • High rates of availability of pornography and sexual depictions in Netherlands, Japan even though sexual violence levels there are very low
  • Predicted pattern shows up elsewhere
  • Cultural context affects response to identical portrayals
    • National Geographic and bare breasts
  • Expectations in addressing the text
  • Conditions of exposure
    • With your friends, children, spouse
portrayal of victims of sexual assault
Portrayal of victims of sexual assault
  • Malamuth (1984) found that men who viewed scenes of violent pornography showed a more callous attitude toward rape and women in general, especially if the women victims in the film were portrayed as coming to orgasm as the result.
  • Men, though not women, were more aroused by a rape scene than a consenting sex scene, but only if the victim was shown as enjoying the rape and coming to orgasm. The men were not aroused if the woman was shown to be terrorized.
exposure to pornography
Exposure to pornography
  • Exposure to pornography (especially violent pornography) tends to lead to acceptance of rape myths
    • (Allen, Emmers, Gebhardt, and Giery, 1995)
  • Participants with repeated exposure to sexually explicit media recommended shorter prison terms for rapists (Zillman & Bryant, 1984)
slasher films
Slasher films
  • College men shown one slasher film per day for a week
    • Filled out questionnaires evaluating the day’s film and some personality measures
  • Over the week the men became less depressed, less annoyed, and less anxious in response to the films. The films were gradually rated as more enjoyable, humorous, and socially meaningful. They were seen as progressively less violent, offensive, and degrading to women. The violent episodes in general and rape scenes in particular were rated as less frequent.
follow up
  • The participants in the slasher movie experiment later observed a rape trial. They rated the victim as less physically and emotionally injured than did a control group. (Linz et al., 1984)

A similar study found that portrayals of a man raped by a man (Deliverance) and of a woman raped by a man (Straw Dogs) led to desensitization toward a female rape victim at trial among men exposed to the depictions but not to women. Exposure to depictions of male aggression toward men and women (Die Hard 2) and to a nonaggressive action film (Days of Thunder) did not have the same effect.


Brand recall was 17% higher for participants who watched a "neutral" program than for those who saw a violent show. And recall was 21% higher for viewers watching neutral shows versus a highly sexual program.

  • What if you juice up the ads with sex and violence? Well, Bushman and Bonacci thought of that and found that it didn't seem to change the results. The violent ads were 20% less memorable and the sexy ones 18% less memorable than the neutral ads.
feminist debate1
Feminist debate
  • Anti-pornography feminists argue that pornography is misogynist and demonstrates and encourages male power over women
  • Pro-erotica feminists argue that sexual depictions need not privilege male power and can be liberating for women, whose sexuality has been controlled and treated as secondary to men’s
where is romance
Where is romance?
  • Romance is actually quite a bit more common than hard-core sexuality in popular culture. The question now is whether sexuality is supportive of, detached from, or detrimental to the development of personal caring and love. Popular culture seems to say that sex and love are in opposition, as boys/men seek the former at the expense of the latter and girls/women do the opposite.
is the situation really so gender coded
Is the situation really so gender-coded?
  • Most research on teens reveals more interest in and curiosity about sex among girls and more interest in real caring among boys than we would expect from popular portrayals.
  • A second concern arises from the peer pressure teens say they feel with regard to sex, even though half or more likely have not yet had sex.
do we make sex itself less enjoyable
Do we make sex itself less enjoyable?
  • It is possible that because our expectations are based on unrealistic portrayals of wildly orgiastic unions carried out in incredibly gymnastic and beautifully orchestrated ways that we feel inadequate when it doesn’t come off that way. The research shows that those who watch a lot of porn find their real-life partners less appealing and are less satisfied with their love lives.
do we discourage long term commitment
Do we discourage long-term commitment?
  • Constant portrayal of extramarital affairs in popular culture may influence our subjective norm. Portrayal of wild sex and the idea that that is the main source of happiness in a union could lead us to unreasonable expectations and to lack appreciation for the non-sexual in a relationship.