For teens, early sex and media exposure not linked

August 18, 2010, Temple University

The prevalence of sex in the mainstream media has led many researchers to study its effect on impressionable adolescents. Several published, peer-reviewed studies have indicated that there is a link between exposure to sex in the media and the early onset of sexual activity among teens. However, a study led by Temple psychologist Laurence Steinberg questions these findings.

Published this month in the online version of , Steinberg's study reevaluated data from a widely publicized 2006 study published in Pediatrics that claimed that adolescents between 12 and 14 who consumed a large amount of sexualized media — including movies, television, music and magazines — were more likely to have sex by age 16.

But Steinberg says that the original study did not fully take into account the fact that adolescents who are already interested in sex will choose to consume more sexualized media; instead of media consumption being responsible for interest in , it's actually the other way around.

In his reevaluation, Steinberg analyzed the existing data by using a more statistically conservative approach, which controlled for adolescents' propensity to be exposed to sexualized media. That propensity was determined by factoring in data collected on other aspects of the teens' lives, including school performance, religiousness, parental relationships, and perceptions of friends' attitudes about sex. When controlling for these additional variables, the link between exposure to sexualized media and the earlier onset of sexual activity disappears.

"There is a common problem in social science research called the third variable problem," said Steinberg. "When looking at the relation between a given behavior and given experience, it could look like there is a correlation, when in fact the relationship is dependent on something else entirely."

He uses a child's religiousness as an example: "If a child reports being very religious, he or she will be less likely to have sex at a younger age, but will also be less likely to consume sexualized media. It may look like media exposure leads to sexual activity, but the relation between the two is artificial.

are one of the largest consumers of mass media; existing research shows they are exposed to mass media for about eight hours a day. Further, a large portion of this group is also less likely to use condoms than their older counterparts, putting them at risk for a host of health problems.

"These factors certainly warrant concern from adults," said Steinberg. "But instead of pointing a collective finger at the entertainment industry, the most important influences on adolescents' sexual behavior are probably closer to home.

"There are many reasons to find the portrayal of sex in mass media objectionable," he added. "But let's not confuse matters of taste with matters of science."

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5 comments

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freethinking
1 / 5 (3) Aug 18, 2010
So if I understand this study, if parents raised their kids with more religion and morals, then the number of teens having sex would decline. If parents raise their kids with less morals and let them be exposed to the media, there will be more teen sex.
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2010
So if I understand this study, if parents raised their kids with more religion and morals, then the number of teens having sex would decline.
You read it wrong. Statistics state the exact opposite.
freethinking
1 / 5 (3) Aug 18, 2010
The quote I am using is --If a child reports being very religious, he or she will be less likely to have sex at a younger age, but will also be less likely to consume sexualized media.--

If religious, then less likely to have sex, less likely to consume sexualized media.

Then the oposite should be true, if not religious, then more likely to have sex, and more likely to consume sexualized media.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Aug 18, 2010
Then the oposite should be true, if not religious, then more likely to have sex, and more likely to consume sexualized media.
Of course you have absolutely no backing for that statement, in addition, the above study has already been shown to be biased.
"Temple University"

http://www.aborti...cts.html

Try this survey. Actual statistics from a group that is not biased towards religion.
ClickHere
5 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2010
blah blah blah ... "were more likely to have sex by age 16."

So what?

I think that pretty much sums up this line of inquiry. There's no actual real problem with some under 16 year old's having sex. There will also be a portion who will do it.

What's more interesting, to me, is that some people find it worth studying.

I'd hazard a guess that testosterone levels are higher in under 16yo who self-report as having had sex recently, and that under 16yo who "consumed a large amount of sexualized media" would also have high testosterone levels.

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