Viewing sexual media and sexual behaviors, are they really related?
|Abstract:||The purpose of this study was to determine whether there was a relationship between viewing sexual messages/images in the media and participation in sexual behaviors. A self-report questionnaire was used to elicit information from 586 college students. Results indicated the majority of students had viewed sexual messages/images in media and had engaged in sexual activities. Participation in sexual behaviors was significantly (p<.001) related to frequency of viewing sexual content in media, with students who frequently viewed sexual content reporting morefrequent participation in sexual activities. These results should be considered in developing programs to reduce participation in risky sexual behavior.|
Youth (Sexual behavior)
Universities and colleges
|Publication:||Name: American Journal of Health Studies Publisher: American Journal of Health Studies Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American Journal of Health Studies ISSN: 1090-0500|
|Issue:||Date: Wntr, 2009 Source Volume: 24 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||Canadian Subject Form: Sexual behaviour|
|Product:||Product Code: 8220000 Colleges & Universities; E121930 Youth; 7753000 Pornography NAICS Code: 61131 Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools SIC Code: 8221 Colleges and universities|
|Organization:||Organization: American Academy of Pediatrics|
Risky sexual behavior continues to pose serious health problems in this country, especially for adolescents and young adults (Brody, 2006; Le & Kato, 2006; American Academy of Pediatrics-AAP, 2001; Young, 2004; Escobar-Chaves, Tortolero, Markham, Low, Eitel, & Thickstun, 2005). Mosher, Chandra, & Jones (2005) reported 36 % of 15-17 year-old males had experienced vaginal intercourse with a female, and 66 % of 18-19 year-old males reported sexual contact with another person. The trend was slightly higher in females where 51 % of 15-17 year-old females reported sexual contact with another person, and only 17 % of females at 18-19 year-old had not had experienced sexual contact with another person. Data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) for the period of October 2004 to January 2006 indicated that 46.8% of high school students had ever had sexual intercourse; 37.2 % of the students who reported participation in intercourse also reported they had not used a condom at last sexual intercourse. Additionally 14.3% of the students participating in the study reported they had experienced sexual intercourse with more than four persons during their life (Eaton, Kann, Kinchen, Ross, Hawkins, Harris, et al. 2006).
A report from the National College Health Risk Behavior Survey (NCHRBS), published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) by the CDC (1997) reported the results of a study that examined sexual behavior and condom use among college students. The study involved 4,609 undergraduate college students from 136 institutions across the country. Results included the following: 86.1% of the students in the study reported experiencing sexual intercourse; 34.5% of the students indicated participation in sexual intercourse with six or more partners during their lifetime. Only 29.6% of the students reporting participation in intercourse also reported use of a condom (by survey participant or partner) at the most recent time they had participated in sexual intercourse. Among those students reporting participation in sexual intercourse, consistent use of a condom (by the survey participant or partner(s)) was only 27.9%.
Risky sexual behaviors increase vulnerability for unintended pregnancy, STDs, HIV infection, and other serious health problems. Young people, especially those of traditional high school and college age, seem to be especially vulnerable. Data from the NCHRBS supported this assumption and revealed that 35.1% of the respondents reported they had been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant (CDC, 1997). The NCHRBS data also indicated that the frequency of unintended pregnancy among college students' age group was higher than for any other groups. For example, almost 66.67% of pregnancies among this population were unintended (CDC, 1997).
Additional data reported by the CDC (1997) indicated approximately two thirds of gonorrhea patients, and 90% of all Chlamydia cases occurred within the under 25 age group. Data from 2004 showed 13% or 4,883 of the HIV/AIDS cases were found among individuals 13-24 years old (CDC, 2006). Males comprised 62% of these cases during 2001-2004 (CDC, 2006).
A numbers of programs, both those emphasizing abstinence and those that use a more comprehensive approach, have been developed to help young people reduce sexual risk-taking behavior (Young, 2004). Concomitantly, researchers have also spent their energy and resources to address issues related to risky sexual behavior. Myriad studies have conducted to identify the root of the phenomena. Some researchers (e.g., Brown, L'Engle, Pardun, Guo, Kenneavy, & Jackson, 2006; Collins, Elliott, Berry, Kanouse, Kunkel, & Hunter et al, 2004; Cornel & Halpern-Felsher, 2006) have tried to identify effects of exposure to sexual media on individuals' sexual behaviors. However, because of a number of limitations associated with the work that is available, it does not provide a solid basis for the development of public policy (Escobar-Chaves, et al, 2006). Therefore, more research is still needed to address this issue.
Does viewing explicit sexual media increase an individual's intention to engage in sexual activity? Is it likely that people who enjoy viewing sexual activity or other sexual images in media will tend to incorporate this "fantasy" into their real life? Baranowski, Perry, & Parcel (2002) tended to support this view by noting the environment is an important component of individual's behavior. It is more efficient for an individual to learn from other people by watching their behavior and observing the outcomes. These researchers indicated observational learning can be used to learn majority of behaviors. Thus it seems that viewing explicit sexual media might also result in observational learning.
Results of previous studies have indicated that observing/watching sexual behaviors or explicit sexual images in media may influence an individual's sexual behaviors. For example, Collins, Elliott, Berry, Kanouse, Kunkel, & Hunter et al (2004) investigated association between viewing sexual material on TV and reported sexual behaviors among adolescents. A baseline and one-year follow-up interview was used to elicit the information from respondents aged 12 17 years. The findings indicated that there were some associations between viewing sexual messages on the TV and sexual behavior. These associations included both initiation of sexual intercourse and frequency of non-coital sexual activities during the following year (Collins et al, 2004).
Additionally, Brown, L'Engle, Pardun, Guo, Kenneavy, & Jackson (2006) found that viewing sexual messages in television, movies, music albums, and magazines were statistically correlated to adolescent's sexual behaviors. In this in-home longitudinal survey, the researchers involved a group of 1,017 adolescents from 14 public middle schools. The data were collected by an audio computer-assisted self-interview. Data analysis indicated the influence of sexual media exposure on teenagers' sexual activity differed for white and black youth. Researchers found exposure to four selected types of sexual media increased sexual activity and vulnerability to engage in early sexual intercourse among the white adolescents, but not for the black teens (Brown et al. 2006).
Research conducted by L'Engle, Brown, & Kenneavy (2006) found that sexual activity and intent to engage in sexual intercourse were influenced by media sexual content exposure and media support for the sexual behavior. Their study involved a sample of 1,011 adolescents from 14 middle schools in the Southeastern US. The researchers compared influences of the mass media, including television, music, movies, and magazines on adolescents' reported sexual desires and behaviors to other socialization contexts, such as family, religion, school, and peers.
Frequency of Internet use has also been found to be associated with an individual's sexual behaviors (McFarlane, Kachur, Bull, & Rietmeijer, 2004). McFarlane et al (2004) surveyed 4,444 participants, all over 18 years, through a 64-item online questionnaire study. These researchers found women frequently used the Internet to gain sex partners, did not regularly use a condom, and engaged in anal, oral, and vaginal sex with their partners. Boies (2002) found 40% of 760 university students studied had seen sexual explicit material (SEM) on the internet, 40-50% students had engaged in at least one form of online sexual activity (OSA), such as visiting a sex chat room, masturbating while viewing sexual images or interacting with a partner on-line, or having sex with partners who were met on-line. Masturbation, while viewing sexual content on the Internet was a commonly reported student behavior.
Our literature review indicated that while there does seem to be an influence of exposure to sex in the media on individual sexual behavior, the actual number of studies has been quite limited. We were not able to find any studies that completely assessed the association between exposure to certain sexual media, especially Internet use, and the frequency of college students' participation in sexual behaviors, including sexual intercourse, anal sex, and giving or receiving oral sex. In the present study we attempted to address some of the gaps in the literature by examining the frequency of exposure to sexual imagery in different types of media and its relationship to participation in several types of sexual behaviors.
The purpose of the study was to examine the association between sexual media contacts and sexual behaviors among university students. A unique questionnaire to address limitations of previous research was designed to measure the phenomena. In the present study, sexual media was defined as any explicit sexual images or messages that appeared on television, magazines, movies, and the Internet, used by young people to gain pleasure or knowledge about sex. Meanwhile, sexual behavior was defined as any individual's sexual activities, including penile-vaginal sexual intercourse, penile-anal sexual intercourse, giving oral sex to sexual partner, receiving oral sex from sexual partner, and masturbation.
The participants in the survey were 586 college students enrolled in undergraduate health related classes at a major southeastern university. Thus this was a sample of convenience. Because the sample is from one U.S. university, some demographic information concerning the general university student population may be relevant. The university in this study is a public university, located in the Southern United States, with a total enrollment of approximately 17,000. Undergraduates comprise 76% of the enrollment total. Approximately equal numbers of males (50.4%) and females (49.6%) are enrolled. Caucasian students comprise just over 80% of the enrollment, followed by African-Americans (5.7%) and international students (5.2%). Asian/Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Hispanics are also represented.
A participant self-report questionnaire was used in the study. It included items designed to elicit demographic data, as well as items addressing health behaviors. Included were five items addressing the participants' viewing of "explicit sexual images" in movies, magazines, television shows, music videos, and on the Internet. For each type of media, participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they viewed such images. Participants were given six possible response options from which to choose: (1) never have done this, (2) not in last year, (3) less than once per month, (4) one to four times per month, (5) not every day, but more than once per week, (6) at least once per day. The phrase "explicit sexual images" was not defined for participants.
The questionnaire also included five items regarding participation in sexual behaviors. The behaviors were: sexual intercourse, giving oral sex, receiving oral sex, participation in anal intercourse, and masturbation. Participants indicated the frequency with which they participated in these behaviors using the same six response options used to indicate the frequency with which they viewed sexual images.
The questionnaire was developed through a literature review of pertinent variables. To make sure that the questionnaire was relevant to the study objectives, experts in the area of sexuality research were asked to review and comment on the items. Additionally, a small group of students, not included in this study, were asked to complete the questionnaire and to provide feedback to the researchers. Some revisions, especially the possible response options for the questions concerning frequency of viewing sexual media and sexual behaviors, were made based on the feedback from these endeavors.
This study was approved by the University's Institutional Review Board (IRB). Data collection was completed with the help of various course instructors who volunteered their classes for the study. Some instructors gave students extra credit for participation in the study. These instructors also gave their students the option of participating in an alternative activity for extra credit, instead of completing the questionnaire. The cover page of the questionnaire, which was read aloud to students, explained the purpose of the study and emphasized: (1) participation was voluntary and (2) since their names were not linked to the questionnaire, responses were anonymous. Students were also given the opportunity to ask questions regarding the study before the survey was administered. Participation rate was approximately 97 percent.
Data analyses were carried out using SAS programs. This included frequency counts, correlations, and chi-square.
CHARACTERISTICS OF PARTICIPANTS
Over half of the participants (58.68%) were female, almost all of them were single (96.23%), and between 19-22 years of age (88.22%). Over one third of the participants were college sophomores (37.16%). Only 14.18% were senior students. The majority of the participants identified themselves as white (83.52%). Other participants identified themselves as African American, Asian/pacific islander, and American Indian. Demographically, this sample has a greater percentage of females than does the university's student population. Percentages for race/ ethnicity appear to be close to those for the total student population. See Table 1.
SEXUAL MEDIA CONTACTS
The majority of participants reported having viewed explicit sexual images in various types of media. This included: movies (70.31%), magazines (61.84%), television (70.45%), music videos (70.89%), and the Internet (65.07%). See Table 2.
PARTICIPATION IN SEXUAL BEHAVIORS
The vast majority of participants reported participation in four of the five sexual behaviors: penile-vaginal intercourse (78.16%), giving oral sex (78.84%), receiving oral sex (83.62%), and masturbation (67.58%). Only 25.6% of the participants reported participation in anal sex. See Table 3.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN VIEWING SEXUAL MEDIA AND PARTICIPATION IN SEXUAL BEHAVIORS
To determine whether there was a relationship between overall exposure to explicit sexual images in the media and overall frequency of participation in sexual behaviors, scores for both media exposure and sexual behavior were calculated. This was accomplished by adding the frequency score (1-have never done this to 6-do this at least once per day) for each of the five media types to obtain the sexual media exposure score. This was also done for each of the five sexual behaviors to obtain a sexual behavior frequency score.
In effect, the five sexual behavior items became a sexual behavior scale and the five media exposure items became a media exposure scale. Cronbach's alpha for the sexual behavior scale was .794. Cronbach's alpha for the media exposure scale was .943. Factor analysis was used to confirm that items on the media construct comprised a single construct. Factor loadings for all five items were .84 or above. The same factor analysis procedure was used for the five item sexual behavior scale. Three of the five items loaded at .80 or above. Anal sex loaded at .61 and masturbation at .50.
The correlation between sexual media exposure and sexual behaviors was statistically significant (r=.56, p < .0001). Further analysis by gender indicated that the correlation values for both males and females were statistically significant (males r = 0.47, p = < .0001; females r = .46, p = .0001) Thus, those respondents who experienced higher exposure to explicit sexual images in the media, tended to have a higher frequency of engaging in sexual behaviors.
ASSOCIATION BETWEEN VIEWING SEXUAL MESSAGES IN MOVIES AND SEXUAL ACTIVITIES
The association between viewing explicit sexual images in movies and frequency of participation in sexual behaviors was statistically significant (p<.0001) for all five behaviors that were examined. This included: participation in penile-vaginal intercourse -X2 (25df, N = 580) = 118.43; receiving oral sex-X2 (25 df, N = 582) = 115.95; giving oral sex -X2 (25 df, N = 582) = 99.15; masturbation-X2 (25 df, N = 584) = 327.89; and anal sex-X2 (25 df, N = 584) = 147.53. These results indicated that there was a difference in frequency of participation in these sexual behaviors, by frequency of exposure to sexually explicit images in movies. Those with more frequent exposure tended to report more frequent participation in the sexual behaviors.
ASSOCIATION BETWEEN VIEWING SEXUAL MESSAGES IN MAGAZINES AND SEXUAL ACTIVITIES
The association between viewing explicit sexual images in magazines and frequency of participation in sexual behaviors was statistically significant (p<.0001) for all five behaviors that were examined. This included: participation in penile-vaginal intercourse -X2 (25 df, N = 580) = 127.39; receiving oral sex-X2 (25 df, N = 582) = 124.11; giving oral sex-X2 (25 df, N = 582) = 110.53; masturbation X2 (25 df, N = 584) = 291.22; and anal sex-X2 (25 df, N=584) = 231.35. These results indicated that there was a difference in frequency of participation in these sexual behaviors, by frequency of exposure to sexually explicit images in magazines. Those with more frequent exposure tended to report more frequent participation in the sexual behaviors.
ASSOCIATION BETWEEN VIEWING SEXUAL MESSAGES ON TELEVISION AND SEXUAL BEHAVIORS
The association between viewing explicit sexual images on television and frequency of participation in sexual behaviors was statistically significant (p<.0001) for all five behaviors that were examined. This included: participation in penile-vaginal intercourse -X2 (25 df, N = 578) = 110.69; receiving oral sex-X2 (25 df, N = 580) = 179.79; giving oral sex-X2 (25 df, N = 580) = 76.36; masturbation X2 (25 df, N = 582) = 182.53; and anal sex-X2 (25 df, N = 582) = 236.03. These results indicated that there was a difference in frequency of participation in these sexual behaviors, by frequency of exposure to sexually explicit images on television. Those with more frequent exposure tended to report more frequent participation in the sexual behaviors.
ASSOCIATION BETWEEN VIEWING SEXUAL MESSAGES IN MUSIC VIDEOS AND SEXUAL BEHAVIORS
The association between viewing explicit sexual images in music videos and frequency of participation in sexual behaviors was statistically significant (p<.0001) for all five behaviors that were examined. This included: participation in penile-vaginal intercourse -X2 (25 df, N = 580) = 139.17; giving oral sex-X2 (25 df, N = 582) = 102.04; receiving oral sex-X2 (25 df, N = 582) = 185.62; masturbation X2 (25 df, N=584) = 269.38; and anal sex-X2 (25 df, N = 584) = 205.56. These results indicated that there was a difference in frequency of participation in these sexual behaviors, by frequency of exposure to sexually explicit images in music videos. Those with more frequent exposure tended to report more frequent participation in the sexual behaviors.
ASSOCIATION BETWEEN VIEWING SEXUAL IMAGES IN INTERNET AND SEXUAL BEHAVIORS
The association between viewing explicit sexual images on the Internet and frequency of participation in sexual behaviors was statistically significant (p<.0001) for all five behaviors that were examined. This included: participation in penile-vaginal intercourse -X2 (25 df, N = 580) = 114.59; giving oral sex-X2 (25 df, N = 582) = 97.88; receiving oral sex -X2 (25 df, N = 582) = 168.56; masturbation-X2 (25 df, N = 584) = 437.36; and anal sex-X2 (25 df, N = 584) = 183.43. These results indicated that there was a difference in frequency of participation in these sexual behaviors, by frequency of exposure to sexually explicit images on the Internet. Those with more frequent exposure tended to report more frequent participation in the sexual behaviors.
Results of this survey indicated that college students' frequency of viewing explicit sexual images in the media was related to their frequency of participation in the selected sexual behaviors. Frequent viewers reported a higher frequency of participation in sexual behaviors, than less frequent viewers. This was true for all five types of media that were examined.
Previous data (e.g. MMWR, 1997) reported that a high percentage of college students have been involved in several types of sexual activities. Similarly, the clear majority of the students in this study reported participation in four of the five sexual behaviors studied (penile-vaginal intercourse, giving and receiving oral sex, and masturbation). The only behavior for which the majority of students did not report participation was anal sex. Only 25.60 % of the students reported participation in this behavior. Results of this study also indicated that receiving oral sex was the most popular sexual activity among the students (83.62%), followed by giving oral sex (78.84%), and sexual intercourse (78.16%).
This is consistent with the work of Cornell and Halpern-Felsher (2006) who indicated that oral sex is now considered more acceptable sexual behavior for adolescents. From their study, Cornell and Halpern-Felsher discovered fifteen reasons why young people have oral sex, including for pleasure, to improve relationship, popularity/reputation, risk avoidance (more safe than vaginal sex), want to/can not wait, and because of peer pressure. These researchers also noted that media was one of the reasons for the apparent increase in popularity of oral sex.
Lottes, Weinberg and Weller (1993) indicated the majority of college students had favorable attitudes toward sexual media. With respect to frequency of viewing sexual images or messages in media, our study revealed that almost all of the college students were exposed to sexual images or messages in the five types of media studied, including movies, magazines, television, music video, and internet,. Only a few of them reported that they had never been exposed to sexual messages or images in the mass media. It is difficult for the young people to totally avoid contact with sexual messages or images as such images are pervasive in our society. For those who wish to seek out such content, the Internet and other media sources provide easy access.
The results of this study showed that there was an association between the frequency of students' viewing sexual images in various types of media and the sexual behaviors studied. These findings support previous studies regarding sexual media influences on individual sexual activity. For example, in Boies' (2002), study of college, results indicated an association between viewing sexual content on the Internet with masturbation rates among college students. Collins et al (2004) found some associations between viewing sex on TV and adolescents' sexual behavior. Participants who frequently viewed sexual messages on TV tended to have more liberal attitudes toward premarital sex and to overestimate the frequency with which their peer group participated in certain sexual behaviors. Researchers have also found that sexual content on television, movies, music and magazine was related to increased sexual activity and vulnerability for engaging in early sexual intercourse among the white students, adolescents aged 12-14 years (Brown et al, 2006). Thus, this study is part of an increasing body of literature that indicates viewing sexually explicit media is related to individual participation in various sexual behaviors.
This study is limited in its generalization for several reasons. This was a survey at a single point in time. While the results show an association between frequency of viewing explicit sexual images in the media and frequency of participation in selected sexual behaviors, this does not necessarily point to a cause and effect relationship. Additionally, data were collected by means of a self-report survey, and thus all of the potential problems associated with self-report data are potentially problems here. The sample was one of convenience and may not be representative of the student population at this university, college students in general, or the general population of young adults. We did not define "sexually explicit images," leaving that for the participants to interpret for themselves. Thus, participants might have differing notions of what constituted a "sexually explicit image."
CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE STUDY
Despite of the study's limitations, these results can help us to better understand the association between exposure to sexual media and individual's sexual behaviors. The findings of our study, as well as others, seem to indicate frequency of viewing sexual content in movies, television, magazines, and on the Internet are very much related to the frequency in which young people participate in various sexual behaviors. Nevertheless, one cannot simply conclude that the mass media are solely responsible for risky sexual behaviors among the students.
Finally, as media have become part of a student's lifestyle, discussions about sexual behavior should include discussion of possible media influences on student's sexual attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. For example, health education curricula should reflect this issue in class activities. Health educators should address this issue in class discussions. Additionally, further research investigating the role of sexual media in influencing young people's sexual behaviors should be included in future studies of risky sexual behaviors. Continued research should also increase the number and diversity of participants, types of media exposure, and types of sexual activities. It may also be important to examine the actual time spent viewing sexual media and how the viewer perceives the sexual content. Different people may have vastly different perceptions of sexuality as portrayed in media. Finally, consideration should be given to undertaking additional research employing a rigorous experimental design to examine the potential impact of exposure sexual media on risky sexual behaviors.
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Teuku Tahlil, MS, is affiliated with Nursing Department, School of Medicine, Syiah Kuala University. Michael Young, PhD, is affiliated with College of Health and Social Services, New Mexico State University. Please send all correspondence to Michael Young, PhD, College of Health and Social Services, P.O. Box 30001, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88011. Phone: 575-646-3526, Fax: 575-646-6166, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Table 1. Frequencies and Percentages of Health Attitude Responses by Gender Characteristics Frequency Percent Gender Male 284 58.68 Female 200 41.32 Relationship status Single or not married 510 96.23 Married 20 3.77 Age (years) < 19 32 6.08 19-22 464 88.22 > 22 30 5.70 Class in school Freshman 120 22.99 Sophomore 194 37.16 Junior 130 24.90 Senior 74 14.18 Class in school White 446 83.52 Black 52 9.74 Hispanic 16 3.00 Asian/pacific islander 14 2.62 American Indian 4 0.75 Other 2 0.37 * In some sub-variables, the percentage may not add up to 100% due to incomplete response Table 2. Characteristics of respondents' sexual behaviors Frequency Behavior Never Not in Last <1 per Year month Penile--Vaginal 128 44 90 (21.84%) (7.51%) (15.36%) Giving Oral 124 74 190 (21.16%) (12.63%) (32.42%) Receiving Oral 96 72 176 (16.38%) (12.29%) (30.03%) Anal 436 70 44 (74.40%) (11.95%) (7.51%) Masturbation 190 46 88 (32.42%) (7.85%) (15.02%) Frequency Behavior 1-4 At least At least times per 1/week 1/day month Penile--Vaginal 142 150 32 (24.23%) (25.60%) (5.46%) Giving Oral 118 74 6 (20.14%) (12.63%) (1.02%) Receiving Oral 142 86 14 (24.23%) (14.68%) (2.39%) Anal 20 6 10 (3.41%) (1.02%) (1.71%) Masturbation 86 144 32 (14.68%) (24.57%) (5.46%) Table 3. Characteristics of respondents' sexual media contacts Frequency Types of Media Never Not in Last <1 per Year month Movies 174 76 124 (29.79%) (13.01%) (21.23%) Magazines 224 120 88 (38.366%) (20.55%) (15.07%) Television 172 96 124 (29.55%) (16.49%) (21.31%) Music Video 170 100 110 (29.11%) (17.12%) (18.84%) Internet 204 90 98 (34.93%) (15.41%) (16.78%) Frequency Types of Media 1-4 At least At least times per 1/week 1/day month Movies 96 78 36 (16.44%) (13.36%) (6.16%) Magazines 76 50 26 (13.01%) (8.56%) (4.45%) Television 84 76 30 (14.43%) (13.06%) (5.15%) Music Video 84 74 46 (14.43%) (12.67%) (7.88%) Internet 84 60 48 (14.38%) (10.27%) (8.22%)
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