Purpose: To investigate the possibility that the mass media (television, movies, music, and magazines) serve as a kind of super peer for girls who enter puberty sooner than their age-mates. Multiple studies have demonstrated significant associations between earlier pubertal timing and earlier transition to first sex. Does puberty also stimulate interest in sexual media content that is seen as giving permission to engage in sexual behavior?
Methods: White and African-American female adolescents (n = 471; average age 13.7 years) recruited from public middle schools in central North Carolina completed two self-administered surveys in their homes about their pubertal status, interest in and exposure to various media, and perceptions of sexual media content.
Results: Earlier maturing girls reported more interest than later maturing girls in seeing sexual content in movies, television, and magazines, and in listening to sexual content in music, regardless of age or race. Earlier maturing girls were also more likely to be listening to music and reading magazines with sexual content, more likely to see R-rated movies, and to interpret the messages they saw in the media as approving of teens having sexual intercourse.
Conclusions: The mass media may be serving as a kind of sexual super peer, especially for earlier maturing girls. Given the lack of sexual health messages in most media adolescents attend to, these findings give cause for concern. The media should be encouraged to provide more sexually healthy content, and youth service providers and physicians should be aware that earlier maturing girls may be interested in sexual information.