This trend extends to video games, where women are underrepresented, and, when present, are much more likely than men to be shown with a sexualized appearance or in sexually revealing clothing. Drawing primarily on the premises of cultivation theory and social cognitive theory, researchers have explored how exposure to this content contributes to the sexual attitudes and behaviors of consumers.
Evidence is sparser for a causal link between media use and attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration. In terms of sexual behavior, cross-sectional surveys have found that frequent exposure to sexual media content is associated with increased reports of intentions to have sex, light sexual behavior kissing, holding hands , and heavy sexual behavior, such as intercourse. Studies have also found that heavier exposure to sexual content predicts earlier or heavier sexual activity one year later.
Several factors have been shown to moderate these connections, including the race and gender of the viewer and level of parental mediation. Sexually explicit material or pornography has become widely accessible, especially on the Internet. Among both adolescents and adults, more frequent pornography consumption has been associated with holding more permissive sexual attitudes, such as a greater acceptance of extramarital and casual sex; with gender-specific attitudes, including greater support of traditional sexual roles and adversarial sexual beliefs; and with a greater likelihood of perpetrating sexual coercion, harassment, and aggression.
Evidence also connects pornography consumption to individual sexual behavior, especially among adults. Among adults, pornography use is linked to earlier coital initiation, more frequent participation in specific sexual activities, participation in casual sex, and having a higher number of sexual partners; it has not been consistently linked to condom use.
The portrayals are not uniform, however, and instead take multiple forms—explicit or implied, reality-based or wholly fictional, comical or serious, conveyed via talk or behavior.
This sexual content also covers a range of topics, including portrayals of passion and desire, sexual attraction, sexual objectification, infidelity, and conflict. This article reviews major findings concerning the nature of portrayals of sexuality and sexual relationships in mainstream entertainment media, and their impact on media consumers. In creating parameters for this review, we have chosen to focus on analyses of the following electronic entertainment media: We do not focus heavily on print media magazines, newspapers, books , news media, or social media.
For source material, we draw on peer-reviewed publications, and we do not review unpublished dissertations and conference presentations. To keep the review current, we focus on empirical studies and content analyses published in the new millennium, from to We begin with a summary of some recent content analyses documenting the nature and prevalence of sexual content in the media.
We continue with a discussion of relevant media effects theories, and we then review studies examining contributions of mainstream media exposure to sexual attitudes and behaviors. We conclude with a discussion of effects of pornography.
Themes, storylines, dialogue, and jokes related to sex and sexuality are a prominent feature of this content. The most recent large-scale efforts to assess the prevalence of sexual content were conducted at the start of the new millennium, and published from — Findings across multiple studies indicate slight changes from year to year in these rates, with both increases and decreases being reported.
Although sexual content is highly prevalent, it is not uniform, and evidence indicates that some types of sexual content are more prevalent than other types. More specifically, findings indicate that sexual talk is more prevalent than depictions of sexual activity Kunkel et al.
Also, when sexual behavior is depicted, it tends to be mainly kissing and flirting. For example, of the eight sexual behaviors coded by Fisher et al. One type of sexual content that is consistently minimal or absent is content about the risk and responsibilities of sex, such as discussions of safe sex practices, depictions of condom use, or discussions about disease prevention.
Second, sexual content has been found to vary greatly based on the genre. For example, in their analysis of 1, television programs across 11 networks, Fisher et al. Sexual talk was found in Acknowledging the diversity of sexual content, some studies have looked at the presence of a particular type of sexual theme or script.
One script examined is the presence of the heterosexual script and its components. The heterosexual script describes the courtship strategies, commitment orientations, and sexual goals considered appropriate for women and men in heterosexual relationships in Kim et al. This script expects men to actively pursue sexual relationships, to objectify women, and to prioritize sex over emotion; conversely, women are expected to be sexually passive, to use their looks and bodies to attract men, to serve as sexual limit setters, and to prioritize emotions over sex Kim et al.
References to the heterosexual script have been noted to occur Analyses of reality dating programs indicate that references to men as always looking for sex occur 3. Particularly prominent are messages linking masculinity to sexual prowess and interest Kim et al. One of the largest projects to explore this issue, led by Bleakley, Jamieson, and Romer , examined films, which included 15 of the 30 top-grossing movies for each year from to Each film was coded for the presence or absence of sexual content in five-minute segments, and sexual content was defined to include kissing on the lips, nudity, sexual behavior, or sexual intercourse, implicitly or explicitly shown.
Any sexual content emerging was rated for explicitness on a five-point scale. Several analyses have emerged from this large dataset, finding differences in movie sexual content by gender, year, and movie rating. Of the films, Explicitness of the sexual content increased with the ratings but did not increase over time.
Other research teams have focused on films of a particular genre, such as romantic comedies, or on films directed at a particular audience, such as teens.
The most common sexual activity depicted was passionate kissing. No differences were found over time in the overall prevalence of sexual acts, nor in the presence of sexual dialogue.
In their analysis of the 52 highest-grossing romantic comedy films from —, Hefner and Wilson found an average of 7. Similarly, in their analysis of 40 top-grossing romantic comedies, Johnson and Holmes observed 3, relationship-oriented incidents. The largest category observed was kissing and the second largest category was compliments, most of which were expressed by a male character.
Relationships were not always rosy, however, and incidents of deception, arguing, and of breakups were also reported. However, as observed with television content, there was little depiction in movies of safe sex practices, risks, or consequences Callister et al. Music Videos Sexual imagery is also prevalent in music videos, noted to appear in The sexual acts appearing most frequently are sexual and suggestive dance, sexual objectification, and self-touching.
For example, King, Laake, and Bernard examined the presence of 19 sexual behaviors for women and 16 sexual behaviors for men in music videos appearing on four networks. These patterns have been found to vary based on artist gender and music genre. One consistent theme emerging is that in music videos, women and female artists are more often shown in sexual ways than men and male artists. For example, Aubrey and Frisby found that in comparison to male artists, female artists were significantly more likely to be provocatively dressed Music Lyrics A few studies have examined sexual content in music lyrics, alone, outside of the visual format of the music video.
In their analysis of top songs from , Primack et al. Video Games Although fewer studies have analyzed sexual portrayals in video games, the findings emerging paint a consistent picture. Analyses indicate that not only are women underrepresented in video games, but that when present, they are much more likely than men to be shown with a sexualized appearance or in sexually revealing clothing.
Effects of Media Exposure on Sexual Attitudes and Norms Theoretical Explanations for Media Effects Sexual media research has sought to determine whether exposure to media content related to sexuality can influence attitudes, beliefs, and expectations about sexuality and also whether these effects extend to sexual behaviors. This research draws on two main theoretical approaches.
Therefore, if television regularly portrays casual sex with minimal risks, cultivation theorists argue that frequent television consumers might grow to cultivate or adopt a comparable view, including adopting a permissive stance towards casual sex, dismissing possible health risks and consequences, and being more likely to engage in casual sex themselves.
As these assumptions have been questioned by many researchers, it is common to see variations on the theory that examine genre or content-specific exposure to television rather than total TV exposure as a unified whole e.
Additionally, although TV remains the main focus of cultivation theory research, this theory has been applied to other media beyond television e. In sexuality research, social learning theory is used to explain how adolescents may observe sexual content in the media and then model their own behavior after that content. Social cognitive theory adds to this approach by incorporating the agency of viewers in the engagement and interpretation of media Bandura, Social cognitive theory would suggest that, if women are regularly exposed to messages that men are sex-driven and women are more sexually passive, they might internalize those sexual scripts, and perhaps ultimately limit their own sexual agency.
This work explores the unique contributions of different socialization agents e. This model incorporates influences, such as motivations for viewing e. For example, Braithwaite, Coulson, Keddington, and Fincham have used this model to examine the ways in which the effects of pornography viewing on sexual behavior are mediated by sexual scripts.
The 3AM model and other ecological approaches that take into account contextual factors surrounding the adoption of sexual attitudes and behaviors depicted in media will likely continue to play a large role in sexual socialization research. Effects on Attitudes Toward Uncommitted Sexual Exploration The most substantial body of literature linking media and sexual attitudes explores if media use contributes to attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration.
However, some research finds only conditional support for these associations, reporting that higher levels of media use are associated with more positive attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration for only female ter Bogt et al. Still, it is noteworthy that our review of the literature did not uncover any research demonstrating that higher levels of media use were associated with more negative attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration; if it was indeed the case that there was not an association between media use and attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration, one would expect a roughly equal number of studies to uncover positive and negative effects.
Considered together, then, survey research suggests that higher amounts of media exposure are associated with an increased tendency to hold positive attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration. Social cognitive theory suggests that we are more likely to adopt the attitudes expressed in media content if we perceive that content as realistic Bandura, Consistent with this line of reasoning, correlational research demonstrates that people who perceive media content as more realistic hold more positive attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration Chock, ; Ferris et al.
The reasons we use media are also consequential cognitions. Bond and Drogos surveyed college-aged viewers of the popular sex-laden reality television program Jersey Shore and found that heavier viewers of the program reported stronger parasocial relationships i. Further, when the mediating influences of parasocial relationships and wishful identification were statistically controlled, the relation between Jersey Shore exposure and attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration dropped to non-significance.
The evidence for a causal link between media use and attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration, however, is relatively sparse. It may be that experimental effects only emerge under certain conditions. For example, although Taylor found no main effect of exposure to sexual media content on attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration, he found that those participants who believed the content they saw was more realistic expressed more positive attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration.
The nature of sexual media portrayals may also be consequential: Impressively, this effect was still evident two weeks after experimental exposure. The Heterosexual Script and Related Constructs A second line of research considers how media use contributes to endorsement of components of the heterosexual script. As indicated earlier, the heterosexual script describes the dominant cultural scripts i.
According to the heterosexual script, men are expected to actively pursue women, avoid emotional commitment, and value women primarily for their appearance. Women, by contrast, are expected to express interest in men using passive strategies like self-objectification, set sexual limits, and prioritize emotional commitment over sexual fulfillment.
Implicit in this conceptualization is an understanding of male-female relations as inherently adversarial, because the roles women and men are expected to uphold are often at odds. Also implicit in this conceptualization is a sexual double standard, whereby men are normatively expected to have and are thus rewarded for uncommitted sexual encounters, whereas women are normatively expected to not have uncommitted sexual encounters and thus could expect to face social consequences for enacting the same behavior that would reap rewards for men.
Higher levels of regular media exposure tend to be associated with a greater tendency to endorse components of the heterosexual script, including the beliefs that men are sex-driven and women are sex objects.