Sexuality in the media is easily one of the most prominent aspects of modern society. The media is highly sexualized, though whether or not this is the decision of deliberate manipulation towards a sense of hypersexuality or merely a response to “what sells” is unclear. This is a sample essay that addressed significant research done into the subject of whether or not the media is becoming increasingly sexualized and the impact that may have on society.
Sexuality in the media
Sexuality in the media has been a topic of debate and discussion over recent years. The topic has become increasingly controversial as many individuals believe that there has been an increase in sexualized media over recent years. They believe this is to blame for the increased sexuality exhibited by adolescents. Critics of this argument may argue that as society and adolescents begin to become more sexualized, the media responds to this by producing media which has become more sexualized in order to continue to be relevant and popular. The media may argue that they need to continue to be sexualized in order to effectively promote their ideas and sell products to a society that has become sexualized over time.
A review of the literature surrounding the research on sexuality and the media needs to be analyzed to determine whether sexuality in the media has been increasing or not. A review of the literature is also needed to make a determination regarding which came first and what has caused the increased sexuality both in among adolescents and in the media. I believe that the literature will find that there has been an increase in sexuality in the media. I also believe that the increased sexuality in media has resulted in increased sexuality in adolescents. Which has resulted in hypersexualized adolescents who engage in risky behavior, have increased chances of becoming pregnant or having sexually transmitted diseases.
Sex sells, so does more sex sell more?
Advertisers frequently make the argument that sex sells and lately it appears that more sex sells. One must only look at magazine advertisements and television advertisements to notice that advertisements have become highly sexualized in their content and technique. Elliot found that
“recent developments in advertising imagery… have moved well beyond the simple use of nudity and suggestiveness to the use of overt sexuality. For example, press advertisements in the UK for Haagen-Dazs ice-cream use images of couples apparently using the product as an artifact during sexual activity” (p. 187).
While this may appear to be just an issue in Europe the problem has been increasing in the United States which can be seen in the over-sexualized advertisements on display. Advertisers have begun to reach the extent of what is designated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to be acceptable. The use of sexuality to sell products to consumers can have negative consequences. This is evident in adolescents who are highly susceptible to the influential nature of overtly sexualized advertisements.
The magazines in which these overtly sexualized advertisements are featured have also become highly sexualized as well. These magazines, especially magazines geared to teenage girls, have more articles about sex. Magazines geared towards older men and women also have increased sexuality. Men’s magazines frequently picture women in scantily clad clothes on their covers. Women’s magazines have numerous articles about sexuality and the optimal ways to gain pleasure. These magazines do not have to be bought for the measure to be spread as these magazines and their covers are featured on grocery store stands.
Sexuality in television and music
Television and music have also become increasingly sexualized. Television programs have more scenes and storylines involving sexual activity than in previous years, even surpassing what is shown in some R-rated films. This may be another reason TV seems to be overtaking cinema. These scenes are also playing during earlier hours as in years past sexuality on television could only be televised after a certain hour. Music has also become hypersexualized as the lyrics which are sang by role models for young children sing about having sex. While most of the lyrics are laden with innuendos there is still an implied sexuality and in some more explicit music the sexuality is highly overt. This music also contributes to the highly sexualized nature of adolescents as they frequently listen to music which teaches them how to behave sexually.
A large amount of literature exists surrounding the relationship between sexuality in the media and adolescents. The significant amount of research demonstrates that this topic is of significant concern to researchers. As parents grow concerned about the sexuality of their teens they want answers for how to address the problem. This may demonstrate why a large amount of research has gone into the topic. As research is needed on a problem before a possible solution can be created. If research can demonstrate that increased sexuality in the media leads to hypersexualized teenagers a possible solution may be that the amount of sexuality in the media needs to be decreased so as to combat this ever growing epidemic.
Susceptibility of adolescents to sexualized advertisements
An extended literature review conducted by Gruber found that adolescents were highly susceptible to the influences of media and he highlighted the reasons for why this was the case.
“This group may be particularly at risk because the cognitive skills that allow them to critically analyze messages from the media and to make decisions based on possible future outcomes are not fully developed” (Gruber, n.p.).
However Gruber also found that while at the moment adolescents may be influenced by media, longitudinal studies find that the influence of an adult role model is more important in shaping the sexual beliefs and practices of a teenager. This study shifts the focus from the media to the parents and makes a cause for the parents to have more of an influence in their children’s lives rather than the media.
In her analysis of the studies that have been completed on adolescents and sexuality in the media Brown came to a similar conclusion. Brown studied a broad number of approaches that have researched sexuality and adolescents. She found that while media does play a large part in determining the sexuality of teens, it only does so because that is the only outlet they have to learn about sexuality. As in the previous study Brown shifts the focus back to the parents as she reports that
“it looks more like schools are talking about sex as little as possible, health care providers receive little training or incentive to work with youth…Other sources of information teens might turn to for advice, such as their parents or religious advisers, are still reluctant to say more than just say no” (Brown, p. 8).
These studies indicate that society has found a convenient scapegoat in the form of media to explain the hypersexualized behavior of the teens. However critics may also be able to use this to state that if adolescents only form of education regarding sexuality is the media than the media needs to depict sexuality responsibly.
Teenagers choose media based on their interests
Steele’s analysis on media and adolescent sexuality introduced a different angle into the literature on adolescent sexuality. Steele’s study demonstrated that teenagers are choosing the media they utilize based on their interests. Steele was able to formulate this conclusion from
“working from a developmental perspective that recognized identity formation as a key task of adolescence, we devised a model that explained how adolescent’s media practice revolved around identity” (p. 331).
Steele determined that a teen’s main goal is to form their identity. Rather than a cause and effect relationship, teenagers and the use of media have an intertwining relationship in which one does not necessarily predict the other.
While most of the literature that is available on the topic of adolescents and sexuality used methodology that was removed from adolescents, Werner-Wilson studied the source directly. Werner-Wilson studied the perceptions of teenagers and parent themselves regarding the large presence of sexuality in the media. Werner-Wilson found that while concerns about the media was highly prevalent with parents, teenagers did not seem to have been influenced by the media or if they were did not care about the influence of media in their lives. The study also proposed a solution to the problem of adoloscents and the sexualized media they are exposed to.
“For now, parents and sexuality educators may need to convince adolescents that concerns about the media are valid before trying to change media-influenced behavior” (Elliot 303).
Similarly to other studies Werner-Wilson also places parents in the center of resolving issues that come up from the sexualized media. Although Werner-Wilson does acknowledge that media can have a negative influence on teenagers, the solution needs to focus on changing the perception of media for adolescents. Teenagers must be able to recognize when the media is attempting to influence them in order to be able to resolve to let the media play a smaller part in influencing their decisions.
What about everyone else?
The research on sexuality in the media is heavily focused on adolescents and parents. There is very little information about how sexuality in the media affects adult perception of sexuality. Although research is available on the effects of pornography on adults there is not a lot of information regarding how traditional media’s portrayal of sexuality affects adults. The literature leaves out a number of concerns such as race and class. The literature available also does not discuss at length the nature of homosexuality and the sexualization of the media. In the studies analyzed a large and varied number of methodologies were utilized.
Gruber’s study of sexuality involved completing a literature review on the research available surrounding the topic of adolescent sexuality. Gruber incorporated opinions of healthcare professionals regarding adolescent sexuality to gain a comprehensive view of the topic. Gruber’s study also included an analysis of new media that has gained a resurgence in recent years such as the internet and social media.
“Similarly, research on sexual content of the Internet, in video games or other handheld devices, or in the multitude of other electronic media has been scan” (Gruber n.p.).
This study identified an area in which new research needs to be conducted such as the advent of new media and it’s representation of sexuality.
Brown’s research on media sexuality
Brown’s book on adolescent sexuality and the media served to broaden the understanding that is available on the topic. Brown utilized the support of writers who contributed to a broad study of adolescent sexuality completed by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
“The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation has been one of the most active, commissioning a number of studies on both sexual content in the media and youths’ response to that content” (Brown np.).
Brown attempted to fill the gaps that were present in the research by including a diverse groups of adolescents from various age ranges, ethnicities and social class groups. Brown also utilized a number of different methodologies ranging from interviews, surveys to more quantitative approaches. Brown’s research also focused on a variety of media sources rather than just the conventional ones. Romance movies, daytime talk shows, sex in music and sexuality on the internet were all topics which were covered at a great length. The broadness of the studies provided a comprehensive analysis on the topic of sexuality and the media while increasing awareness of the topic as well as providing possible solutions for the problems that were identified by the studies.
Werner-Wilson’s Contributions to Understand Parental Impact
Werner-Wilson focused on the qualitative approach of utilizing a focus group approach to analyze the ways in which parents and adolescents view the media’s influence.
“Much of the research in this area is based on surveys in which adolescents are asked to rank the relative importance of a fixed set of factors such as parents, peers, and media” (Werner-Wilson p. 303).
This study was one of the few studies which incorporated the parent’s viewpoint not just the adolescents. As teenagers are not raised in a vacuum it is important to analyze not only the parent’s influence on their children but also the perception parent’s have of other influences on their teenagers. By incorporating the viewpoint of parents the research is brought into a new direction. The presence of parents in the literature is crucial as many of the solutions posed by researchers when analyzing the issue involves increased parent involvement in discussion of their children’s sexuality and the media that they are exposed to in their daily life.
Steele utilized quantitative methods in his approach to adolescent sexuality. Through analyzing the data generated by focus groups, journals and discussions Steele was able to generate a study which demonstrated the way in which media affects the everyday lives of teens. Steele also studied the problem through two various approaches.
“The study complements two mass communication research streams: content analyses of sexual content in the mass media and media effects research focusing on teenagers” (Steele, p. 331).
The focus on both the media and its effects serves to provide an analysis from both the media standpoint and the views of the adolescents. Steele’s study brought new information regarding the back and forth between adolescents and the media. Rather than analyzing the issue from a cause and effect standpoint, Steele viewed the issue as adolescents playing a more active role in the way they use, observe and analyze media. Steel provided a new shift for the topic for future research.
Hypothesis and argument
A hypothesis that there has been an increase in sexuality in the media was supported by most of the research that was analyzed. However the determinants of this increased sexuality were inconclusive as research was limited on whether the hypersexuality of media is in response to the increased sexuality in our society. The research did find that a cause and effect relationship does not take place as adolescents are more active participants in the way they take in media. This could be in part as a result of the increased influence of social media which involves the heavy participant of the consumer.
“While neither prior research nor the general public appear to dispute the sexual content of the media, the perceived influence on adolescents and their sexuality appears to warrant further examination. Few studies examine whether adolescents themselves find the media influential in determining their sexual attitudes, values and behaviors” (Elliot, p.304).
Acknowledging that adolescents are more active consumers of the media is essential in determining the relationship between the media and adolescents.
A hypothesis that adolescents have become increasingly hypersexual as a result of the media they are exposed to was unfounded by the research. Rather than blame being placed on the media, research found that the parents were the ones that needed to be focused on as a cause of their children’s increased sexualized behavior. Numerous research demonstrated that a parent’s lack of wanting to discuss sexual topics led to their children gaining knowledge from the media and other less reputable sources. While critics of the media who were looking for quick solutions such as fixing the media they may not have been prepared to find that the solution needed to be adjusting the involvement of parents in their adolescents sexual lives. While this may not have been the answer supporters of the research were looking for it provides a solution to a problem which may actually be effective in resolving the issue.
Violence in the media and conclusions
Violence in the media is not frowned upon or analyzed as extensively as sexuality. Violent show can often reflect violence in society as a whole. Violent shows can be on air earlier times than sexuality themed programming. Violent messages in songs, advertisement or in magazines are not as discouraged as sexuality has been. This demonstrates the way in which our society is uncomfortable with sex and sexuality. Parents of adolescents reflect this uncomfort as they have difficulty discussing topics of sexuality with their children. Parents put off the conversation or engage in the conversation in an indirect manner which invites more confusion.
In order to combat the inaccurate and inappropriate portrayal in the media it is essential that parents have a discussion with their teenagers on the topic. By discussing the accurate and honest portrayal of sexuality parents can spread a positive message about sex rather than the negatives they are exposed to in the media. While media becomes an easy scapegoat for parents who are unwilling to engage in these conversations with their teenagers, it is important to acknowledge the rise of sexuality in the media.
While parents need to make a more concerted effort to engage with their teenagers, the media also needs to take steps to reduce the amount of sexuality that is portrayed in the media. By taking a more responsible approach with sexuality in the media and parents becoming more involved, the epidemic of overtly sexualized teenagers can hoped to be overcome. More research will also need to be completed on the holes in the current literature that is available on the topic of sexuality in the media namely in discussing the effects on adults and the portrayal of homosexuals in the media. Comprehensive research is needed before the issue can be fully understood.
Elliott, Richard, et al. “Overt sexuality in advertising: a discourse analysis of gender responses.” Journal of Consumer Policy 18.2 (1995): 187-217.
Brown, Jane D., Jeanne R. Steele, and Kim Walsh-Childers, eds. Sexual teens, sexual media: Investigating media’s influence on adolescent sexuality. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2001.
Gruber, Enid, and Joel W. Grube. “Adolescent sexuality and the media: A review of current knowledge and implications.” Western Journal of Medicine 172.3 (2000): 210.
Steele, Jeanne Rogge. “Teenage sexuality and media practice: Factoring in the influences of family, friends, and school.” Journal of Sex Research 36.4 (1999): 331-341.
Werner-Wilson, Ronald Jay, Jennifer Lynn Fitzharris, and Kathleen M. Morrissey. “Adolescent and parent perceptions of media influence on adolescent sexuality.” ADOLESCENCE-SAN DIEGO- (2004): 303-314.