Watching Soap Operas Negatively Associated with Sexual Consent Negotiation Intentions

By Lei, Ming; Hust, Stacey J. T. et al. | Media Report to Women, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Watching Soap Operas Negatively Associated with Sexual Consent Negotiation Intentions


Lei, Ming, Hust, Stacey J. T., Ran, Weina, Ren, Cunbo, Marett, Emily, Media Report to Women


In the world of U.S. soap operas, Luke and Laura from the series General Hospital have been heralded as one of the most well-known couples since they married (Wolf, 2006). Their wedding, a spectacular and romantic event, was watched by roughly 30 million households (Wolf, 2006).

The beginning of their romance, however, was far from romantic. Luke raped Laura when he was drunk. This illustrates one type of storyline about rape on daytime soap operas called the reformed rapists (Dutta, 1999). In these storylines, the reformed rapists enter loving relationships with other characters on the show, and sometimes form romantic relationships with their victims.

More than 10 million households in the U.S. watch soap operas every weekday (Soap Opera Network, 2012). Sexual aggression is often featured on soap operas in the United States (e.g., Greenberg & Busselle, 1994; Lowry, Love & Kirby, 1981) and some portrayals of sexual aggression are prominently associated with rewarding consequences (Dutta, 1999). Sexual assault in reality, however, has adverse and severe consequences. The victims of sexual assault suffer from severe physical and psychological consequences, such as sexually transmitted infections and diseases, unplanned pregnancy, depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (World Health Organization, 2010).

It is imperative to reduce sexual assault and one vital concept is sexual consent negotiation, which refers to the process of using verbal or nonverbal cues to seek consent for sexual activity, refusing or consenting to sexual activity, and adhering to sexual consent decisions (e.g. Humphreys, 2004; Hust, Marett, Ren, Adams, Willoughby, Lei, et al., in press). The negotiation of sexual consent is critical to the reduction of sexual assault because the absence of consent is the defining characteristic of sexual assault. Sexual consent negotiation is guided, at least in part, by individuals' adherence to sexual scripts, which are cognitive frameworks that serve as guidelines for behaviors in sexual situations (Byers, 1996). Moreover, the sexual scripts individuals subscribe to are influenced by the sexual scripts conveyed in their culture (Gagnon, 1990) and soap operas are a part of the culture that can present individuals with sexual scripts related to sexual consent negotiation.

The sexual scripts depicted on soap operas regarding sexual consent negotiation may have detrimental impacts on the viewers. Individuals are capable of learning vicariously from observing symbolic representations in media and the perception that a behavior is associated with positive consequences facilitates the adoption of the behavior (Bandura, 1986; 2001). Frequent portrayals of and the positive consequences associated with sexual aggression on soap operas may encourage viewers to adopt the belief that sexual aggression is acceptable in society, which may discourage sexual consent negotiation. There were 243,800 incidents of sexual assault in the United States in 2011 (Truman & Planty, 2012). This means a sexual assault happened almost every two minutes.

Sexual consent negotiation is critical in reducing sexual assault, but the sexual scripts conveyed on soap operas feature sexual aggression with positive consequences (Dutta, 1999; Larson, 1991), which may discourage viewers from engaging in sexual consent negotiation. The possibility that viewing soap operas can be negatively connected to sexual consent negotiation has practical significance in sexual assault reduction because soap operas are viewed by more than 10 million households every weekday in the U.S. (Soap Opera Network, 2012). Yet no research has examined the relationship between watching soap operas and sexual consent negotiation. Therefore, the researchers investigated whether such viewing would be related to lower intentions regarding sexual consent negotiation.

Literature Review

Sexual Scripts Related to Sexual Content Negotiation. …

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