Gender and Family as Moderators of the Relationship between Music Video Exposure and Adolescent Sexual Permissiveness

By Strouse, Jeremiah S.; Buerkel-Rothfuss, Nancy et al. | Adolescence, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Gender and Family as Moderators of the Relationship between Music Video Exposure and Adolescent Sexual Permissiveness


Strouse, Jeremiah S., Buerkel-Rothfuss, Nancy, Long, Edgar C. J., Adolescence


In recent decades there has been considerable research on the effects of television on attitudes and behavior of young people. Most of this research was government sponsored and focused on violence and aggression. A 1982 National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) summary report (NIMH, 1982) concluded that violence on television does lead to violence among youth. The report further stated "children learn from watching television and what they learn depends on what they watch" (p. 51). These conclusions were reiterated and expanded in a recent American Psychological Association task force report titled, Big world, small screen: The role of television in American society (Huston et al., 1992). One of the themes of this report was that relatively powerless subgroups such as "children and institutionalized individuals are especially vulnerable because they sometimes lack the intellectual and social skills needed to evaluate and resist televised messages" (p. 3).

If television viewing can cultivate a slanted world view and influence several behavioral domains, as has been amply demonstrated (Huston et al., 1992), then one would also expect that television may affect sexual learning. Although there has been much speculation and debate, there is a lack of focused research to support or refute this contention. Some related research lends support to the contention that television may influence sexual learning. For example, Louis Harris & Associates (1987) found that the majority (64%) of adults in the U.S. believe that television encourages teenagers to initiate sexual activity. Further, a study of 1,043 adolescents found that they considered television to be their greatest source of pressure to become sexually active (Howard, 1985). A review of various studies indicated that media have increased in importance as a source of sexual knowledge for youth over the past few decades (Darling & Hicks, 1982).

Survey research that has more directly examined the relationship between popular media exposure and adolescent sexual permissiveness suggests that the volume of general media consumption is not correlated with sexual permissiveness (Brown & Newcomer, 1991; Soderman, Greenberg, & Linsangan, 1988; Strouse & Buerkel-Rothfuss, 1987; Wright & Anderson, 1989). However, a number of surveys (Brown & Newcomer, 1991; Peterson & Khan, 1984; Strouse & Buerkel-Rothfuss, 1987) have found that exposure to sexually suggestive materials - especially Music Television (MTV) and R-rated films - is significantly associated with premarital sexual permissiveness (PSP) among youth. Moreover in one experimental study (Greeson & Williams, 1986), seventh- and ninth-grade adolescents who were exposed to less than an hour of MTV were more likely to approve of premarital sex than were adolescents who were not exposed to MTV. Similarly, Calfin, Carroll, and Schmidt (1993) found that college students who were exposed to a music video exhibited more liberal attitudes toward premarital sex than did unexposed students. This research clearly suggests music videos may influence sexual attitudes and behavior among youth.

Why Study Music Videos?

With the advent of MTV in August 1981, an immensely popular new form of entertainment was spawned. According to MTV's chairman, "MTV has been one of the most successful TV ventures in history" (Polskin, 1991, p.4). After only 10 years, it is beamed into 55 million U.S. homes and is growing at a rate of 5 million per year. Moreover, MTV Europe is the fastest-growing foreign franchise, reaching 24 million homes in 27 countries (Polskin, 1991). No one can dispute the huge commercial success of MTV and its residual impact on the music industry.

Targeted at teenagers and containing more sex and violence than conventional television (Sherman & Dominick, 1986), the new music video industry has attracted a notable group of critics. For example, The American Academy of Pediatrics, Women Against Pornography, The National Coalition on Television Violence, The Parents Music Resource Center, The National Parent Teachers Association, and others (e. …

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