URC

The Effects of Sexual Content in Television and Film on Young Adults

Cate Davis
Emily Hahn
Miah Kinlow

Huntington University

Abstract

This study examined the effects of sexual content within television and film on young adults. It was hypothesized that consumption of television and film with sexual content would have an effect on the viewers of such media. No specific hypothesis was assigned in order to avoid assigning morality to sexuality. One hundred and fifty-one participants aged 18-25 took a survey designed by the present researchers. A t-test was completed to compare the amount of hours of television or film watched with the gender of the participant, and no significant relationship was found between the two variables. A Pearson r correlation coefficient was used to analyze the amount of hours watched with the five indices of behavior, attitude, language, imagery, and explicitness stemming from the researcher-created instrument.  Statistically significant relationships were found between media frequency language, imagery, and explicitness categories.

Introduction                          

Media consumption, specifically in the area of television and film, has become a significant form of entertainment. Sexual content is an ever-present component within this form of media. Nearly every show or movie, unless specifically targeted for young children, has an element of sexual content within it. Young adults, often with considerable free time and expendable income, are prominent consumers of such media (Eyal & Kunkel, 2008). This reality leads to an important question: what effect does sexual content within media have on young adults aged 18-25? The prevalence of sexual content within entertainment makes it a norm; due to its commonality, it becomes expected and thus accepted as a regular part of entertainment.

In order to better understand the impact sexual content has on young adults specifically, the researchers explored the specific subgroups of sexual linguistics, behavior, attitudes, and images. The subgroups are significant in the research to pin-point the exact area of impact on a young adult's life. Furthermore, the study sought to discover the impact that the portrayal of the subgroups has on the perceptions of sex within the young adult population. The term, sexual linguistics, includes any form of sexual innuendos or blunt sexual speech. This category of sexual behavior includes just that—any form of sexual action that is displayed throughout a show or movie. Sexual attitudes could encompass an approving or disapproving approach to the sexual content, such as the encouragement of sexual actions, or the promotion of abstinence. Nudity or promiscuous images within media would be part of the sexual images subgroup. Ideally, this will give a good indication of the overall impact that sexual content has on young adults, as well as the specifics of significance of each subgroup.

In the modern age, media has become a prominent part of people's everyday lives. Social media, television, film, and other media vehicles inundate a majority of our everyday lives (Escobar-Caves et al., 2005). This is particularly true for young adults today (Brown et al., 2006). Many teens and young adults spend countless hours flipping through channels and watching hours of film a week. With this much time spent watching these types of media, adolescents are strongly impacted by the television and films they choose to watch. Many adolescents see this as a more appealing way to receive sexual information (Callister, Stern, Coyne, Robinson, & Bennion, 2011). Some find it hard and embarrassing to go to their parents about taboo subjects such as sex. With easy access to television shows and films, young adults can access and search for anything for which they may have questions (Callister, et al., 2011). Presently, many of the films and television shows that are geared to and/or developed for young adults are focused on sexual relationships.

In a recent study, researchers asked young adults watch television shows that had a moderately high sexual content and report their attitudes towards sexuality afterwards (Brown et al., 2006). In this study, both white and black young adults watched and reported the television shows they watched on a regular basis. The researchers interviewed them face-to-face and asked them questions about their sexual attitudes and history. Two years later, they asked the same adolescents through a computer interview to report their sexual attitudes and history. The results yielded the information that the adolescents (majority white) were almost twice as likely to engage in sexual behavior than peers with typical maturation and low reported watching of sexually explicit television (Brown et al., 2006).

In conjunction with the study above, studies have been conducted to determine the correlation between exposure to media and the impact or effect it has on young adults (Escobar-Chaves, et al., 2005). In a study conducted on college freshman, researchers sampled 110 co-educational students and asked them to watch television dramas that had both negative and positive views on sexuality. Before the students watched the dramas, questions regarding attitudes towards sexuality and perception of moral judgment of the characters of the dramas were distributed. Immediately following the watching of shows, researchers distributed questions based on attitudes toward sexuality and moral judgment of characters. Findings showed that many reported a change in moral judgment from what they had held before the study (Eyal et al., 2008). A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found through base-line surveys that adolescents who were exposed to a high amount of sexual content on television were more likely to "have unplanned pregnancies within the following 3 years" (Gottfried, Vaala, Bleakley, Hennessy, & Jordan, 2013, p.74).

Advertisements can have an impact on the cognition and behaviors of viewers. Furthermore, certain advertisements are targeted specifically toward particular groups of people. The study conducted by Reichert (2003) discussed the importance of looking at sexual prevalence within television advertisements targeted toward young adults. Reichert's research found that the ads portrayed celebrities in sexually explicit situations, which further emphasized the fact that the content in these advertisements revealed more sexual imagery than originally thought. Reichert discovered that advertisements with sexual images had a strong impact on the male perspectives toward the female gender. Sexual objectification was analyzed, and the results showed that "males were more accepting of the portrayals of women in sexually aggressive situations" (Reichert, 2003).

Television advertisements are among the most viewed by the subset population of adolescents and young adults. Perceptions on gender role and sexual content in television advertisements were examined in the study conducted by Rouner, Slater and Domenech-Rodriguez (2003).  Perceptions can differ depending upon age; therefore, older adults and young adults can have different perspectives on an advertisement that shows enticing and explicit sexual material (Lanis & Covell, 1995; Rouner et al., 2003). A positive correlation between sexual imagery in ads can be determined by the attitude from the audience (i.e., adolescents and young adults) if that attitude is positive towards the product advertisement. Men in particular are drawn more towards the sexual imagery in certain advertisements, seeing it as more of a positive than a negative connotation compared to women. In the younger generation, it was found that adolescents were more likely to search for media that coincided with their perceptions of gender (Rouner et al., 2003).

A common theme for gender roles is that of a woman in her role as a mother figure and housewife and of the man working an all-day job. Media is both a reflection of societal values as well as a vehicle used in each and every generation. The strength in advertisement is the ability to shift the viewers' behavior or perceptions. Having the power to alter or change these stereotypes and stigmas is what will change the perspectives across generations (Lanis & Covell, 1995). It is also important to recognize the parental messages towards sexually objective material, which can shape a child's perception of gender roles (i.e., housewife or money-maker promoted in families, churches, schools, and media). The images that youth see everyday on television as well as the constant negative influx of the media's portrayal of gender roles can create a schema for young men towards women; especially when it comes to aggression and dominance towards females (Lanis & Covell, 1995).

Method

Participants

The participants in this study included 151 collegiate level students aged 18-25 from a small, liberal arts university in Indiana. Every undergraduate student, with a declared major was given the option to participate. Enrolled at the university were 589 females and 498 males. A total of 150 individuals responded, with a 12 percent response rate: 109 women and 41 men. Of the respondents, 130 were Caucasian, one was Native American, two were Latino, four were Islanders (Jamaica, Bahamas, etc.), three were Asian, four were African American, and five identified themselves within the "Other" category.

Measures

This study consisted of a survey conducted via surveymonkey.com. The researchers developed the instrument in order to specifically target areas of interest (Appendix A). The survey consisted of twenty questions: four demographic questions, 15 targeted questions, and one opened ended question for further comments. Answers were measured using a Likert Scale of 1-5 (1=strongly disagree or never; 5=strongly agree or always). Each question related to one of the five indices of behavior, attitude, language, imagery, and explicitness.   

Procedure

The survey was sent by campus e-mail to every undergraduate student with a declared major. All responses remained anonymous; no names were recorded at any time in the study.  Only the basic demographic information of age, gender, race, and year was gathered. No incentives were used in order to ensure complete anonymity. The e-mail stated that, by participating in the survey, the participant was consenting to the answer being read and applied to the study. The risks of the study were clearly stated as well as contact information of the researchers and counseling center. After the allotted time of one week, the survey was closed and the information reviewed. In order to test our hypothesis, a t-test and Pearson r correlation coefficient were used to analyze the results.

Results

The researchers compared the variables of gender against the five indices (linguistics, behavior, attitude, images, and explicitness) and found no significant correlations between each pair of variables. However, when the five indices were compared to the hours of television and/or film consumed weekly using a Pearson r correlation coefficient, we found three statistically significant relationships. The sexual imagery index was: r=.171, p<.05, the explicit index was r=.244, p<.01, and the language index was r=.217, p<.01). The categories of behavior and attitude did not result in any statistically significant correlations.

Table 1


Correlations

 

***

Attitude
Impact

Behavior
Impact

Explicitness

Language
Impact

Image
Impact

On average, how often do you watch television and/or film every week?

Pearson Correlation

1

.028

.130

.244**

.212**

.171*

Sig. (2-tailed)

 

.737

.118

.003

.009

.038

N

150

145

146

147

150

148

Attitude Impact

Pearson Correlation

.028

1

.480**

.252**

.318**

.235**

Sig. (2-tailed)

.737

 

.000

.002

.000

.004

N

145

145

143

145

145

145

Behavior Impact

Pearson Correlation

.130

.480**

1

.243**

.468**

.273**

Sig. (2-tailed)

.118

.000

 

.003

.000

.001

N

146

143

146

145

146

146

Explicitness

Pearson Correlation

.244**

.252**

.243**

1

.265**

.751**

Sig. (2-tailed)

.003

.002

.003

 

.001

.000

N

147

145

145

147

147

147

Language Impact

Pearson Correlation

.212**

.318**

.468**

.265**

1

.163*

Sig. (2-tailed)

.009

.000

.000

.001

 

.048

N

150

145

146

147

150

148

Image Impact

Pearson Correlation

.171*

.235**

.273**

.751**

.163*

1

Sig. (2-tailed)

.038

.004

.001

.000

.048

 

N

148

145

146

147

148

148

*Significant at the .05 level
**Significant at the .01 level

*** On average, how often do you watch television and/or film every week?

Discussion

The researchers hypothesized that sexually explicit content (attitude, behavior, imagery, and language, and explicitness) presented in television and film would have an effect on young adults. We found the areas of explicitness, imagery, and language were statistically significant when compared to the hours of television/film viewed. The significant results suggest that there is, in fact, an effect on young adults due to the consumption of sexual content in television and film. However, the results did not support the hypothesis that sexual content has an impact on the specific categories of attitude and behavior. When comparing the relationship of gender to the five indices, we found no statistically significant results—thus yielding the finding that men and women are approximately equal in viewing sexually explicit television and/or film.

A limitation in this study was obtaining a population exclusively from a Christian, liberal arts university. The results of this study are important due to the statistically significant results found between high consumption of television and film and the impact of sexual content on the viewers. However, we believe that a much larger scale study should be conducted to explore the implications of television and film consumption. This study could benefit from population sampling from larger demographics including age, race, religion, and location.

References

Brown, J.D., L'Engle K.L, Pardun, C.J.,Guang G.,Kenneavy, K., Jackson, C., (2006). Sexy media matter: Exposure to sexual content in music, movies, television, and magazines predicts black and white adolescents' sexual behavior. Pediatrics, 117(4), 1018-1027. doi: 10.1542/peds.2005-1406

Callister, M., Stern, L. A., Coyne, S. M., Robinson, T., & Bennion, E. (2011). Evaluation of sexual content in teen-centered films from 1980 to 2007. Mass Communication & Society. 14(4), 454-474. doi:10.1080/15205436.2010.500446

Escobar-Chaves, L.S., Tortolero, S.R., Markham, C.M., Low, B.J., Eitel, P., & Thickstun, P. (2005). Impact of the media on adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors. Pediatrics,116(1), 303-326. doi: 10.1542/peds.2005-0355D)

Eyal, K., & Kunkel, D. (2008). The effects of sex in television drama shows on emerging adults' sexual attitudes and moral judgments. Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 52(2), 161-181. doi:10.1080/08838150801991757

Gottfried, J. A., Vaala, S. E., Bleakley, A., Hennessy, M., & Jordan, A. (2013). Does the effect of exposure to tv sex on adolescent sexual behavior vary by genre? Communication Research, 40(1), 73-95. doi:10.1177/0093650211415399.

Lanis, K., & Covell, K. (1995). Images of women in advertisements: Effects on attitudes related to sexual aggression. Sex Roles, 32(9-10), 639-649. doi:10.1007/BF01544216.

Reichert, T. (2003). The prevalence of sexual imagery in ads targeted to young adults. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 37(2), 403-412. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6606.2003.tb00460.x.

Rouner, D., Slater, M. D., & Domenech-Rodriguez, M. (2003). Adolescent evaluation of gender role and sexual imagery in television advertisements. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 47(3), 435-454. doi:10.1207/s15506878jobem4703_7

 

 

 

 

Appendix A

The Effects of Sexual Content in Television and Film on Young Adults

Rate these answers on a scale of 1-5. 1=strongly disagree, never; 5=strongly agree, always

What is your gender?

What is your age?

What is your race or ethnicity?

What year are you in school?

On average, how often do you watch television and/or film every week?

How often do the television and/or film you watch contain sexual content (i.e. sexual references, innuendos, language, and behavior?)

1   2   3   4   5

I fantasize about the images I see on television or film.

1   2   3   4   5

I understand sexual references that I have heard or seen in television and/or film.

1   2   3   4   5

I have learned new sexual language from television or film.

1   2   3   4   5

I use sexual language that I have heard on television and film.

1   2   3   4   5

My morals coincide with the sexual content displayed in television and film.

1   2   3   4   5

Sexual content observed in television and/or film has affected my sexual behavior.

 1   2   3   4   5

The television or film that I watch typically contains sexual imagery (promiscuous dress, nudity).

1   2   3   4   5

I witness as much sexual imagery (promiscuous dress, nudity) in my environment as I do in television and film.

 1   2   3   4   5

The television or film that I watch presents sexual content in a casual manner.

1   2   3   4   5

I am less bothered by sexual content than violence in television and film.

1   2   3   4   5

I have learned more from my parents/guardian about sex than I have from television and film.

1   2   3   4   5

I feel sexually aroused after watching television and film containing sexual content.

1   2   3   4   5


 


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