The mass media are an important context for adolescents' sexual behavior

J Adolesc Health. 2006 Mar;38(3):186-92. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2005.03.020.


Purpose: This study compared influences from the mass media (television, music, movies, magazines) on adolescents' sexual intentions and behaviors to other socialization contexts, including family, religion, school, and peers.

Methods: A sample of 1011 Black and White adolescents from 14 middle schools in the Southeastern United States completed linked mail surveys about their media use and in-home Audio-CASI interviews about their sexual intentions and behaviors. Analysis of the sexual content in 264 media vehicles used by respondents was also conducted. Exposure to sexual content across media, and perceived support from the media for teen sexual behavior, were the main media influence measures.

Results: Media explained 13% of the variance in intentions to initiate sexual intercourse in the near future, and 8-10% of the variance in light and heavy sexual behaviors, which was comparable to other contexts. Media influences also demonstrated significant associations with intentions and behaviors after all other factors were considered. All contextual factors, including media, explained 54% of the variance in sexual intentions and 21-33% of the variance in sexual behaviors.

Conclusions: Adolescents who are exposed to more sexual content in the media, and who perceive greater support from the media for teen sexual behavior, report greater intentions to engage in sexual intercourse and more sexual activity. Mass media are an important context for adolescents' sexual socialization, and media influences should be considered in research and interventions with early adolescents to reduce sexual activity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Child
  • Family Relations
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Media*
  • Peer Group
  • Religion
  • Schools
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Conditions