Adolescents' exposure to sexy media does not hasten the initiation of sexual intercourse

Dev Psychol. 2011 Mar;47(2):562-76. doi: 10.1037/a0020613.


It is widely believed that exposure to sexy content in the mass media leads teenagers to become sexually active. Although most research linking sexy media exposure to adolescents' sexual behavior is cross-sectional, several recent, well-publicized longitudinal studies purport to find a causal connection, which has alarmed the public and prompted criticism of the entertainment industry for its corrupting influence on youth. One problem in research on media effects on sexual activity, however, is that outcomes that are presumed to result from media exposure may actually be due to factors that differentially predispose adolescents to have different degrees of media exposure and are themselves related to sexual activity. We reanalyzed data from one of these longitudinal studies (Brown et al., 2006) using propensity score matching to control for preexisting differences between adolescents with and without high exposure to sexy media. With such controls for differential selection in place, we found no evidence that the initiation of sexual intercourse is hastened by exposure to sexy media.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Child
  • Coitus / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mass Media*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Behavior
  • Southeastern United States