Academic journal article
By Bleakley, Amy; Hennessy, Michael; Fishbein, Martin
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 48, No. 4
The sexual health and development of adolescents in the United States is often compromised by risks for a sexually transmitted infection (STI), HIV infection, or unplanned pregnancy. Exposure to sexual media is one of several factors that promote risky sexual behavior. Public opinion (Hennessy, Bleakley, Fishbein, & Busse, 2008), as well as scientific evidence (Bleakley, Hennessy, Fishbein, & Jordan, 2008; Brown et al., 2006; Collins, 2005; Hennessy, Bleakley, Fishbein, & Jordan, 2009; L'Engle, Jackson, & Brown, 2006; Somers & Tyrian, 2006), suggests that exposure to sexual content in media is associated with early sexual initiation or progression of sexual activity, as well as the extent and timing of sexual intercourse (Aubrey, Harrison, Kramer, & Yellin, 2003) and a range of other sexual behaviors (Bleakley et al., 2008; Brown et al., 2006; Collins, 2005; Hennessy et al., 2009; L'Engle et al., 2006; Somers & Tynan, 2006). Exposure to sexual content on television (e.g., sexually oriented genres or specific programs) is also associated with expectations about sex, perceptions about peer sexual behavior, and permissive attitudes about sex (Annenberg Media Exposure Research Group, 2008; Ashby, Arcari, & Edmonson, 2006; Brown & Newcomer, 1991; Brown et al., 2006; Collins, Elliot, & Miu, 2009; Pardun, L'Engle, & Brown, 2005; Ward, 2002; Ward & Friedman, 2006).
Little is known about the factors that influence exposure to sexual content. Bleakley et al. (2008) demonstrated that the relationship between exposure to sexual content and sexual activity can be characterized by a feedback loop: The more sexual activity adolescents engage in, the more likely they are to be exposed to sex in media; and the more they are exposed to sex in media, the more likely they are to have progressed in their sexual activity. Focusing on the simultaneity between behavior and exposure shifts research attention from estimating exposure effects on behavior, the more conventional "media effects" perspective, to the treatment of exposure to sexual media content as a behavior in its own right (Slater, 2007). Thus, exposure to sexual media content is a dynamic process under the control of individuals.
The "uses and gratifications" paradigm in communication research provides an appropriate framework for understanding how sexual activity and experience affects exposure to sexual content and how seeking sex in media choices affect adolescent behavior (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974; Ruggiero, 2000). One of the assumptions of the uses and gratifications approach is that media use is purposive and motivated: People are active audience members who select specific media and use it to satisfy their needs, interests, and preferences. From this perspective, the dependent variable of interest is a communication behavior (i.e., media use), as opposed to a health behavior (i.e., sexual behavior). Although uses and gratifications is not so much an explanatory theory as much as it is a research paradigm, there is a body of literature that supports the incorporation of its tenets into media effects research (Rubin, 2002). An early review (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1973) and research reports on the uses of religious television (Abelman, 1987), the Internet (Ko, Cho, & Robert, 2005), reality television shows (Papacharissi & Mendelson, 2007), and radio (Albarran et al., 2007) all highlight the reality of an active audience selecting from an array of media.
As applied to sexual content, the uses and gratifications paradigm assumes that some adolescents intentionally seek out sexual content in their media choices, resulting in increased exposure to media sex. Several research studies demonstrate that young adults report getting information about sex from media sources. For example, Bradner, Ku, and Lindberg (2000) looked at data from the National Survey of Adolescent Males when the respondents were 22 to 26 years of age. …