Age or stage of development also influences comprehension and interpretation of sexual content. In a study of sexual innuendo on television, 12-year-old youths were less likely to understand suggestive material than 14- and 16-year-olds. Similarly, in a qualitative study of adolescent girls aged 11 to 15, those who were at an earlier stage of physiologic development were less interested in sex portrayed in the media whereas more mature young women were intrigued and more actively sought out sexual content in the media as a means of “learning the rules, rituals, and skills” of romance and relationships. Specifically, they reported that the media provided models for achieving the “right look” to become popular and attract boys, portrayed teen characters with problems similar to their own, showed how they solved those problems, and gave examples of how to behave in sexual situations. We could not find comparable studies of developmental influences on boys' understanding and interpretation of sexual content.
(2003) Teenage sexuality in the media: too much too young
Recently, three studies have found a cause-and-effect relationship between viewing sexual content in the media and earlier age at first sexual intercourse. On average, viewing a lot of sexual content at a young age lowers the age at first intercourse by one year. Eight studies have found that making condoms available in school-based clinics is not related to the age young people first have sexual intercourse. The message should be clear by now: the media can be a powerful teacher about sex and sexuality, but availability of contraception does not influence teenagers’ sexual activity. The decision about when to have sex is complex, deeply influenced by family, religion, peers, and the media. The decision to use contraception is simple: If it is available, teenagers will use it. If it is unavailable, they will have unprotected sex.
Representations of gender and sexuality in the media
In contrast to the large number of studies relating media violence to real-life behavior, only 4 studies have explored a possible relationship between sexual content in the media and adolescents' behavior.20–23 However, there are numerous studies that illustrate television's powerful influence on adolescents' sexual attitudes, values, and beliefs.14,24–26 In film, television, and music, sexual messages are becoming more explicit in dialogue, lyrics, and behavior. Too often, these messages contain unrealistic, inaccurate, and misleading information that young people accept as fact. Adolescents have ranked the media second only to school sex education programs as a leading source of information about sex.27
The Ideological Representation of Childhood Sexuality in the Media