Academic journal article
By Manganello, Jennifer; Franzini, Amy; Jordan, Amy
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 45, No. 1
Researchers regularly conduct studies of sexual content on television using content analysis methods. Content analyses of television programs typically are conducted to examine what sexual messages people are exposed to (e.g., Kunkel, Eyal, Finnerty, Biely, & Donnerstein, 2005; Collins et al., 2004; Pardun, L'Engle, & Brown, 2005) and to explore cultural norms about sex (e.g., Ward, 1995). These studies make important contributions to our understanding of the kinds of sexual messages to which adolescents may be exposed by systematically analyzing a dominant medium for youth: television.
Analyses of television's messages about sexuality often are driven by the assumption that television acts as a kind of "super peer" as youth acquire knowledge, information, and beliefs about who is sexual, when it is appropriate to behave sexually, and the risks and responsibilities of becoming sexually active. These assumptions are likely justified. In 2000, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that, among 1,510 12- to 18-year-olds, 23% reported television and movies as providing "a lot" of information about pregnancy and birth control (in Strasburger & Wilson, 2002). Moreover, recent analyses of prime time television programs do indeed indicate that sexual content is prevalent, appearing in 70% of prime-time television programs (Kunkel et al., 2005), and recent media effects studies find that sexual content is associated with sexual behavior patterns (Brown, L'Engle, Pardun, Guo, Kenneavy, & Jackson, 2006; Collins et al., 2004). Television content may be considered, and analyzed, many ways, depending on the theoretical framework underlying the questions. For example, researchers working from Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977) would argue that it is most important to examine the characters with which adolescent audiences identify, as studies have shown that viewers are more likely to imitate a character's behavior if they identify with that character. In this case, a character-based analysis--one that tracks one or more focal teen characters' relationships and sexual behaviors--is appropriate. In addition (or alternatively), one may work from a theoretical perspective that suggests that the prevalence of behaviors and the consequences of those behaviors are important to assess for their potential impact on teen sexuality. A theory such as the Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975) would privilege behavior-level variables as appropriate elements of the program to study.
A key challenge facing researchers interested in the landscape of television programming today is the plethora of programming available. To address this, researchers often focus on a subgroup of programs to examine, for example, shows that are popular with a particular audience (e.g., Byrd-Bredbenner, Finckenor, & Grasso, 2003; Franzini, 2003) or that represent a particular genre, such as soap operas (e.g., Heintz-Knowles, 1996). In addition, researchers may choose some combination of attributes, such as comedies appearing during the prime-time hours (Lampman et al., 2002).
Yet even when researchers have selected a particular show or set of shows to include in their analysis, it often is impractical to content analyze every episode of a program or set of programs, especially for longitudinal studies looking at several seasons of programming, or for studies examining a large sampling frame of program titles. For this reason, researchers generally select a sample of episodes to include in their analysis. In rare instances, researchers will focus on characters and their evolution over the course of a season, necessitating the need to examine each episode of the series (e.g., Franzini, 2003). Most studies focus on behaviors, or incidents of sex that occur in a program (e.g., Lampman et al., 2002). Ultimately, the focus of the analysis may influence the type of sampling necessary.
One could argue that the decisions researchers must make about their sampling may have consequences for findings. …