Exposure to sexually explicit media in early adolescence is related to risky sexual behavior in emerging adulthood

PLoS One. 2020 Apr 10;15(4):e0230242. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0230242. eCollection 2020.


Background: Sexually explicit media exposure during early adolescence has been found to be associated with risky sexual behavior. However, previous study suffered from methodological issue, such as selection bias. Furthermore, little is known about the effect of multi-modality sexually explicit media exposure on risky sexual behavior, and how this relationship can be applied to non-western societies.

Objectives: This study aimed to improve upon previous studies by using instrumental variable estimation. In addition, this study also included multi-modality of sexually explicit media and three risky sexual behavior measure from a sample of Taiwanese adolescents.

Methods: Participants were recruited from a prospective longitudinal study (Taiwan Youth Project). All were in 7th grade (mean age = 13.3) when the study was initiated in 2000. Sexually explicit media exposure, including ever-exposure and number of modalities exposed to, was measured in wave 2 (8th grade). Risky sexual behavior was measured in waves 8 (mean age = 20.3) and 10 (mean age = 24.3). A two-stage least squares regression was employed, with pubertal timing as the instrumental variable.

Results: About 50% of participants had been exposed to sexual media content by 8th grade, from an average of one modality. Sexually explicit media exposure predicted early sexual debut, unsafe sex, and multiple sexual partners (all: p < .05). Furthermore, exposure to more media modalities increased the likelihood of risky sexual behaviors. However, only the effect on early sexual debut was gender invariant.

Conclusions: Exposure to sexually explicit media in early adolescence had a substantive relationship with risky sexual behavior in the emerging adulthood. Knowledge of this causal like effect provides a basis for building better preventive programs in early adolescence. One prominent way is early education on media literacy, and physicians themselves may need to be familiar with such content to initiate it.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Communications Media*
  • Erotica*
  • Female
  • Health Risk Behaviors*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Taiwan
  • Unsafe Sex / psychology*

Grants and funding

This research was supported by a grant from the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan (MOST 107-2410-H-010-001 to Wen-Hsu Lin). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.