Culture Challenge of the Week: Movies "Selling" Sex to Children
Can you name the last five movies your teenage son or daughter has watched with friends? How strong was the sexual content in those movies?
And does it really matter?
New research suggests that it does. The study, conducted by Dr. Ross O'Hara and soon to be published in the journal Psychological Science, found that promiscuity on-screen promotes promiscuity in real life. "Adolescents who are exposed to more sexual content in movies start having sex at younger ages, have more sexual partners," and engage in riskier sexual activities says Dr. O'Hara.
While at Dartmouth University, Dr. O'Hara (now a researcher at the University of Missouri) and his team analyzed the movie-watching patterns of about 1,200 young teens, ages 12-14. Researchers next analyzed the teens' sexual behavior six years later, considering the age at which they became sexually active, their number of partners, and the riskiness of their sexual activity, including whether or not they used contraceptives.
The result: bad news. Young teens who viewed movies with sexual content were profoundly influenced by what they watched. They initiated sexual behavior earlier than their peers who viewed less sexual content, and tended to imitate the on-screen sexual behaviors they saw-which included casual sex, multiple partners, and high-risk behaviors.
It's not surprising, really. Teens crave information about sex--and too often turn to the media for information. Moreover, adolescent hormones operate in overdrive and teens are naturally more sensitive to sexual stimulation. Less likely to delay gratification, teens are more likely to be impulsive and think themselves impervious to harm. The combination, researchers say, means that "sensation seeking, or the tendency to seek more novel and intense sexual stimulation" increases in teens who "watched more movies with sexually explicit content."
So what should parents do?
How to save your Family: Select Movies with Your Children
Dr. O'Hara sums it up well, saying, "This study, and its confluence with other work, strongly suggests that parents need to restrict their children from seeing sexual content in movies at young ages."