Academic journal article
By Taylor, Laramie D.
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 42, No. 2
Content analyses have repeatedly demonstrated that sex is a common element of television content (Kunkel, Cope, & Biely, 1999; Kunkel et al., 2003; Sapolsky & Tabarlet, 1991; Ward, 1995). These same analyses have shown that much of that content takes the form of talk about sex rather than depictions of sexual behaviors. Although the possible effects of sexual television content have received some attention in recent years, the nature and extent of such effects are still not clearly understood. In addition, available research is silent on the question of what kind of sexual representations--verbal depictions of sexual behaviors or talk about sex--produce observed effects. This study explores the nature of the effects of sexual television content by examining the effects of visual and verbal sexual content.
Mixed Findings of Past Research
There is no simple consensus on the nature or strength of the effects of viewing sexual television content, although a growing body of empirical research suggests that viewing sexual television content affects viewers' behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes (for reviews, see Gunter, 2002; Huston, Wartella, & Donnerstein, 1998; Ward, 2003). Some survey research has found a correlation between viewing sexual content on television and sexual activity; preference for television content that contains high amounts of sexual content, such as soap operas and MTV, is correlated with early onset of intercourse, increased sexual experience, and increased non-intercourse sexual behaviors such as petting (Brown & Newcomer, 1991; Nelson, 1997; Ward & Rivadeneyra, 1999). Other researchers, however, find no such relationship (Peterson, Moore, & Furstenburg, 1991).
More evidence is available that suggests that sexual television content influences viewers' knowledge, attitudes and beliefs. Viewing episodes of television shows which discuss facts about specific contraceptive methods is associated, though weakly, with more accurate knowledge about those methods (Collins, Elliott, Berry, Kanouse, & Hunter, 2003; Kaiser Family Foundation, 1997). Attitudes and beliefs about sex are also apparently linked to media use. People who watch more sexual television content make elevated estimates of the real-world frequency of sexual behaviors depicted on television, including extramarital affairs, sex without love, bragging about sex (males only), being parent to illegitimate children, and using sex for favors (Buerkel-Rothfuss & Mayes, 1981; Buerkel-Rothfuss & Strouse, 1993; Ward & Rivadeneyra, 1999). Sexual television content has also been linked to beliefs and expectations about one's own sexual experiences (Aubrey, Harrison, Kramer, & Yellin, 2003; Buerkel-Rothfuss & Mayes, 1981). Further, correlations between heavy television use and relatively more permissive sexual attitudes have been observed (Signorielli, 1991; Ward, 2002; Ward & Rivadeneyra, 1999). Some evidence suggests a correlation between media use and one's satisfaction with one's sexual experience or lack thereof (Courtright & Baran, 1980), although other research finds this to be limited to satisfaction with virginity status alone (Baran, 1976).
Limited experimental evidence suggests that such correlations occur, at least in part, as viewing sexual media content causes a shift in sexual attitudes. In one series of experiments, early adolescents watched either television programs containing sexual subject matter (such as Dynasty and Falcon Crest), nonsexual television programs, or no television at all after school each day for a week. Several days later, those who watched sexual television content expressed greater tolerance for marital infidelity and other sexual improprieties (Bryant & Rockwell, 1994). Smaller doses of sexual television content have also been shown to have an impact; in one study, teenagers who watched less than an hour of music videos were more approving of premarital sex than students who hadn't watched any videos (Greeson & Williams, 1987). …