What the Media Doesn't Teach Kids About Sex

The Media Influences How Teens Have Sex

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A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 8-18 year olds spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media every day. Earlier studies have also shown that this same entertainment media is where teens are getting about a lot of their information about sex. Unfortunately, when it comes to the media’s portrayal of sexuality, a lot of information is lost between the sheets. Of course not all media’s portrayal of sex is negative, but there is a lot about sex that teens won’t learn from the majority of television shows, music videos and movies. 

Talking About Sex is an Important Part of Sex

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The media often portrays sex as casual and impulsive. Characters on television and in movies can be seen having intercourse in cars, beds and bars within the first few hours (or minutes!) of meeting one another. We rarely see characters having a conversation about their STI status or negotiating safer sex practices. The truth is, a big part of any sexual experience is the negotiation and communication about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. Not paying due diligence to the dialogue around sex can give teens the wrong messages about sexual interactions. 

Sex is Risky

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A 2008 study by Nabi and Clark found that risks and consequences are rarely portrayed in sex and the media. Sadly, their research revealed that only 14 percent of programs with sexual content in 2005 discussed the consequences of sexual activity, including STI’s and unplanned pregnancies. On top of that, safer sex is rarely shown. When teens get safer sex information from movies, research has proven that there is positive correlation with the idea that birth control is not necessary for sexual intercourse. Reality check - it totally is. 

Women are Not Objects

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Research shows that people who watch TV sitcoms and dramas are more likely to believe in sexual stereotypes and the objectification of women. Moreover, boys who watch a heavy rotation of music videos or pro-wrestling are also more likely to see date rape as okay. The bottom line here is that it’s never okay to have non consensual sex, and not all men, or women, like sex the same way. But for a young mind who only has what he or she sees in the media to go by, these messages are not as clear as they should be. 

Sex Isn't Always Good

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In the media, characters who engage in consensual sexual activity are often depicted as having great sex every time. The truth is that sometimes sex is good, and sometimes it isn’t. Even when it’s the perfect night of planned passion, sex doesn’t always work out the way we had hoped. And what’s not depicted is the disappointment you may feel when sex doesn’t go your way. Again, research says that regret can play a big role in sex for teenagers, especially when it comes to first experiences. And, big surprise, the viewing of sexual content on television was associated with a greater likelihood of post-sex regrets. 

It's Not Easy for Everybody to Orgasm

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Not all men, and definitely not all women, can reach maximum pleasure by bumping and grinding, but the media often portrays all orgasms as easily achievable feats of missionary, or women on top, sex. On top of that, the media frequently portrays women as uninhibited about their bodies and their pleasure as they head towards the climax. Lots of women love orgasms, this is true, but a lot of women also have a hard time getting there — whether it’s physically or mentally. Plus, most women don’t orgasm from vaginal penetration alone, a fact that you would never know from the sexual scenarios depicted on the silver screen.

And then there’s the generic orgasm face — the one that shows women moaning and writhing in pleasure. The truth is, everyone experiences orgasm their own way, in their own time, and often times it takes a lot longer than the few minutes that a TV show or movie dedicates to a sex scene to actually achieve the Big O.

For more information on how the media impacts adolescent sexuality, read Children, Adolescents and the Media.  

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