Academic journal article
By Brown, Jane D.
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 39, No. 1
The mass media are an increasingly accessible way for people to learn about and see sexual behavior. The media may be especially important for young people as they are developing their own sexual beliefs and patterns of behavior, and as parents and schools remain reluctant to discuss sexual topics.
In the United States, young people spend 6 to 7 hours each day on average with some form of media. A national survey in 1999 found that one third of young children (2 to 7 years old) and two thirds of older children and adolescents (8 to 18 years old) have a television in their own bedroom. Many of those televisions also are hooked up to cable and a Videocassette Recorder (VCR) (Roberts, 2000).
Sexual talk and displays are increasingly frequent and explicit in this mediated world. One content analysis found that sexual content that ranged from flirting to sexual intercourse had increased from slightly more than half of television programs in 1997-1998 to more than two-thirds of the programs in the 1999-2000 season. Depiction of intercourse (suggestive or explicit) occurred in one of every 10 programs (Kunkel, Cope-Farrar, Biely, Farinola, & Donnerstein, 2001).
One fifth to one half of music videos, depending on the music genre (e.g., country, rock, rap) portray sexuality or eroticism (DuRant et al., 1997). Two thirds of Hollywood movies made each year are R-rated; most young people have seen these movies long before they are the required 16 years old (Greenberg et al., 1993). Although teen girls' and women's magazines, such as Seventeen and Glamour have increased their coverage of sexual health issues over the past decade, the majority of advertising and editorial content in these magazines remains focused on what girls and women should do to get and keep their man (Walsh-Childers, Gotthoffer, & Lepre, 2002).
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth rarely find themselves represented in the mainstream media. Although a few of the youth-targeted programs such as "Dawson's Creek" and "Will and Grace" have included gay characters, what some have called compulsory heterosexuality prevails (Rich, 1986; Wolf & Kielwasser, 1991).
The Internet has increased dramatically the availability of sexually explicit content. Computer and Internet use is diffusing more rapidly than any previous technology; as of the end of 1999, more than half (56%) of all adults in the United States were online. It is expected that by 2010 most U.S. homes with children will have access to the Internet (Taylor, 1999).
The word sex is the most popular search term used on the Internet today (CyberAtlas, 2001). The Internet may have both positive and negative effects on sexual health. According to one national survey of young people (10-17 years old) who regularly used the Internet, one out of four said he or she had encountered unwanted pornography in the past year, and one out of five had been exposed to unwanted sexual solicitations or approaches (Finkelhor, Mitchell, & Wolak, 2000). At the same time, a number of sites, such as the American Social Health Association's iwannaknow.org, promote healthy sexual behavior and provide young people with advice on communication in relationships as well as methods for protecting against sexually transmitted diseases.
Despite increasing public concern about the potential health risks of early, unprotected sexual activity, most of the mass media rarely depict three C's of responsible sexual behavior: Commitment, Contraceptives, and consideration of Consequences. Although more than half of the couples who engage in sexual intercourse on television are in an established relationship, 1 in 10 are couples who have met only recently; one quarter do not maintain a relationship after having sex (Kunkel et al., 2001).
Only about 1 in 10 of the programs on television that include sexual content mentions the possible consequences or the need to use contraceptives or protection against STDs. …