Grave Consequences of the Exposition of Adolescents to Sexual Content in the Media

Grave Consequences of the Exposition of Adolescents to Sexual Content in the Media

A few weeks ago I attended a workshop given by an expert in marketing and social media. The speaker emphasized the unawareness about the age of beginning to use pornographic material and the frequency of its use. He pointed out that it begins earlier than in old times. It is surprising that many parents see the problem as being very far away or think that it is not going to affect their children because “they are not interested in that kind of thing”.

What are things really like in this grave matter? Are adolescents exposed to sexual content? How much and in what way does the exposition to sexual material influence the behavior of young people? A study conducted by social investigators from two Dutch universities (van Oosten of Amsterdam, Peter de Leuven and Vandenbosch of the University of Antwerp in Adolescents’ Sexual Media Use and Willingness to Engage in Casual Sex: Underlying Processes ) gives us an answer to these and other questions.

It is the first study that demonstrates how sexual content in social networks can also predict the perceptions and conduct of adolescents about sexuality

The authors of the cited text investigated the relationship between different types of sexual representations in separate media contents and the disposition of adolescents to have occasional sexual relations, as well as the underlying socio-cognitive processes in these relations. In the context of the study, occasional sex is understood as unplanned, and therefore unsafe sex.

The conclusion is clear: the exposition to sexually explicit material in the Internet predicted, in a direct way, occasional sex. In addition, they came to the conclusion that the enticing presentations of themselves in social networks and the so-called “tele-reality” with a high level of sexual content predicts the willingness of the adolescents to participate in casual sex. That is, it can be affirmed that a relationship exists between what adolescents see through different screens and the sexual behaviors that they later develop.

Usefulness of the study and future challenges

The findings of this study, although they refer only to “casual sex”, also have important implications with regard to research about types of sexual behavior in general as a result of the viewing of erotic and/or pornographic content in the media. Certainly they confirm what other studies on pornography have demonstrated, already published on our web page .

In addition, as the authors emphasize in their bibliographical review, the exposition to a that kind of contents also causes permissive types of attitudes toward sex.

Methodology and observations

The base was made up of a longitudinal panel in three stages with an interval of 6 months based on a sample of 1,467 Dutch adolescents, between the ages of 13 and 17. The control variables were sex and age.

The study centers on three categories or variables to measure the sexualized use of the media: exposure to explicit sexual content on the internet, erotic presentation of themselves in their profiles in social networks and viewing of daring “reality shows” – in particular MTV—which are considered popular among adolescents.

These three categories mentioned can predict the will to be involved in occasional sex in a different way, given the possible differences in the socio-cognitive processes that underlie the changes in behavioral disposition and, among other factors, the similarity of the social surroundings of the adolescents: the more problematic the environment they live in, the easier is for the adolescents to identify themselves with the characters and integrate the content into their own lives.

The authors themselves warn that the results of the study may not be applicable to other cultures less permissive than the Dutch. This caveat, typical of any social scientific study, does not lessen the gravity of the implied alarm, especially when it is known that the internet homogenizes cultures, even more than it is done by the cinema or television formats spread internationally, such as some successful television series. Two of the variables that they study refer precisely to the internet and one to television.

It is clear, to my view that the implicit concern of the study is to call attention to “unsafe sex”: although it is not affirmed, the assumption seems to be that “casual sex” is riskier for contracting illnesses or for getting pregnant. It is surprising, on the other hand, that no relevance is given in the discussion of the study to the high levels of sexualization of young people. In the various scales for measuring the “sexual” use of the media they employ, the results obtained are worrisome: the young people are already hypersexualized.

It is not the objective of the study to reveal the causes of the problem, in particular if the problem is only seen partially. In my thinking, we need studies are needed that look deeper into the causes and, as a result, can offer better proposals of solution. If we do not teach young people about love, and we content ourselves with “instructing” about safe sex while leaving them at the mercy of the “sex merchants”, we will not solve anything.