Sex on Television

A Review of Socialization Effects and the Role of Context and Individual Differences

Kirstie M. Farrar


Adolescents and emerging adults watch a great deal of television and research shows that they are exposed to a steady stream of messages about sex and sexuality, the vast majority of which do not contain important messages about safe and healthy sexual behavior. Research finds that young people learn information about sex from watching television and that their attitudes about sexual topics, including sexual health, can be influenced. Evidence is mounting that watching sex on television is linked to both initiation of and advancement in sexual behaviors. This chapter will review the evidence on sexual socialization effects with an emphasis on the role of the context of a sexual portrayal in the effects process. The importance of gender and race in the effects process will also be highlighted and potential positive effects of sexual content in the media will also be discussed.

Social Importance

Research has established that exposure to television portrayals can influence social behavior, both in children and adults. For example, numerous studies indicate that depictions of television violence can increase aggressive behavior among viewers (see Chapters 4, 10, and 18, this volume). Attention to the effects of sexual content in the media on audience members is more recent and the growing body of empirical literature on this topic suggests that several ...

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