|For immediate use||
April 3, 2006 -- No. 185
Carolina-led study examines sexual content
of several media, affect on teensí sexual behavior
CHAPEL HILL Ė Teenagers between the ages of 12 and 14 who use media with high sexual content are up to 2.2 times more likely to have sex by the time they are 16 than those who use less such media, according to a new study published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surveyed 1,017 black and white teens when they were 12 to 14 years old and again two years later, asking them about their use of four different kinds of media and their sexual behavior. These adolescents were from North Carolinaís Durham, Orange and Granville counties.
The research team also analyzed the sexual content in 308 different television shows, movies, songs and magazines used regularly by the teens and then calculated a measure of each teenís "sexual media diet."
White teens in the study who had a high sexual media diet when they were 12 to 14 years old were more than twice as likely as those with less exposure to sex in the media to have had sexual intercourse two years later. The relationship was not as strong for black teens as it was for whites.
"Teens are defaulting to entertainment media for sexual information because they arenít getting this information in other places," said Dr. Jane D. Brown, James L. Knight professor in UNCís School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the principal investigator of the study, which is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
"Unfortunately, the media arenít the best sex educators. The media tend to leave out the crucial three Cís: commitment, contraception and consequences."
This is believed to be the first study of the relationship of four different kinds of media to adolescentsí sexual behavior. The sexual content researchers found in the movies, music, television and magazines teens used ranged from sexual innuendo to nudity to depictions of sexual intercourse.
Brown and her colleagues found that one of the strongest protective factors against early sexual behavior was clear parental communication about sex. White teens who reported that their parents did not approve of them having sex at this age were less likely to have engaged in precoital sexual behavior. Both black and white youth who reported their parents did not want them to have sex were less likely to have engaged in sexual intercourse by the time they were 16 years old than those who perceived less parent disapproval of teen sex.
In an editorial accompanying the Pediatrics article, pediatrician Dr. Victor Strasburger said that pediatricians, teachers, parents and the entertainment industry must think about sexual activity differently from how they confront other risky behaviors to which teens may be attracted.
"Remember that sex is not like drugs," Strasburger wrote. "We want our children to have happy, healthy sex lives Ė when they are older, not when they are 13."
Brown said the media, schools, parents and pediatricians need to provide more accurate and timely sexual information to teens. "Otherwise, the media will continue to serve as a kind of sexual super peer that doesnít have the best interests of young people in mind," she said.
Other UNC authors on the study were Dr. Kelly L. LíEngle of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication; Dr. Guang Guo, professor in the department of sociology; and Kristin Kenneavy, a doctoral student in the department of sociology. Other authors were Dr. Carol Pardun, professor and director of Middle Tennessee State Universityís School of Journalism; and Dr. Christine Jackson of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.
The article in Pediatrics is one of a number reporting findings from the Teen Media study, based in UNCís School of Journalism and Mass Communication. More information about the study can be found at http://www.unc.edu/depts/jomc/teenmedia/.
Pediatrics is the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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