Understanding the Effects of Sexual Content in the Media

Sexual Media Exposure: Part One

The Shock of an Inappropriate Advertisement

Recently, while reading a tragic story about a woman having been sexually assaulted, I noticed a deep and stunning irony on display. An equally startling advertisement had been placed right in the middle of the article.

It’s still unclear to me what the product this advertisement was actually promoting. The ad struck me by surprise while my brain was trying to process the horrific content of the story. What was clear is that the woman’s body on display in this advertisement appeared to be an object for marketing purposes.

In the ad, the woman faces away from the camera. All you can see is between the top of her neck and the back of her knees. Faceless, she’s only known by the view of her backside, covered in a sports bra and skin-tight workout shorts with text written across her rear end. Her body is presented in order to extract the woman housed in the body from the body itself, and it works.

Questioning The Portrayal of Women in the Media

Really stop and think about this for a moment with me. How many times have you glanced at an image like this and wondered whether she is married or has children, whether her grandmother is still alive, what dreams she has for herself, what lost dreams she struggles to overcome?

Undoubtedly, asking these questions goes against the grain of advertising and marketing strategists. The nature of the Internet discourages “rubber necking” at anything too long. There is too much to see and consume around the next bend.

Hundreds of thousands of images like these cross the eyes of millions of men, women, boys and girls every hour of every day of the year.

It’s not just on the Internet where these exposures exist either. Try noticing the billboards you pass every day on the highway. What about the primetime television shows and commercials you and your children sit being entertained by? And, yes, even the music you and your children listen to. This content has become so commonplace that most of us don’t even notice anymore.

Researching the Effects of Sexual Media Content

This content has become like small, thin cracks in our collective psyche. They are hardly noticeable, and we rarely allow ourselves to consider what these cracks might reveal about the larger, more significant issues they might be contributing to.

“What we watch and consume influences a more promiscuous and impulsive attitude about our sexual desires and behaviors.”

In a recent online publication (Oxford Research Encyclopedia), a group of researches
examined a content analysis of published empirical studies from 2000 to 2015 to indicate the effects of sexual media content. They reported that 85% of movies, 82% of television programs, 59% of music videos and 37% of music lyrics all display prevalent sexual content. They go on to write,

“Heavier media exposure is associated with holding more positive attitudes towards uncommitted sexual exploration…increased reports of intentions to have sex, light sexual behavior, and heavy sexual behavior. Studies also found that heavier exposure to sexual content predicts earlier or heavier sexual activity one year later.”

What’s more, they go on to acknowledge pornography having “become widely accessible” among adolescents and adults and “more frequent consumption [of porn] has been associated with holding more permissive sexual attitudes, such as greater acceptance of extramarital and casual sex,…and greater likelihood of perpetuating sexual coercion, harassment, and aggression.”

In summary, what we watch and consume influences a more promiscuous and impulsive attitude about our sexual desires and behaviors we engage in.

This research suggests that higher frequency of exposure results in higher frequency of action and behavior. And further, the more explicit or more objectifying the media content is for erotic pleasuring purposes (such as pornography), the more one will be open to seeking erotic pleasure without concern for how they experience it.

What Do We Do About Exposure to Sexual Media?

It is important that we understand the connection between content we are exposed to and the impact it has on us, our closest relationships, and our children. In my next blog I will discuss some ways to respond to this.

Are you dealing with this or other issues in your life? If you’d like to speak with a licensed, professional counselor, Watershed can help. Click here to make your first appointment.