What Teens Learn from Watching Television: Part 2

In my previous post, I suggested a connection between watching sexual content on TV and having more permissive attitudes about sex in general (Ward, Epstein, Caruthers, & Merriwether, 2011; Ward & Friedman, 2006; Ward & Rivadeneyra, 1999). Now that you know this, do you agree? And where do we go from here?

The important thing to understand about this research is that it is SUGGESTING a trend, and not a FACT. In other words, we cannot prove for a fact that watching a lot of sexual content on TV will make you have more liberal attitudes about sexuality. Like our behavior, there are many other things that could be affecting young people’s attitudes about sex.

First of all, we are not even sure if media is affecting the attitudes, or if it is the other way around. It could be that young people who already have liberal sexual attitudes are just seeking out shows that have more sexualized content (Ward & Friedman, 2006). Also, for those studies that were focused on attitudes and not behavior, it is hard to say for sure that people will engage in sexual behaviors solely because of what they are watching.

This bring us to the topic of permissive sexual attitudes itself. I believe a major concern that adults have about teens with permissive sexual attitudes is that teens will inevitably engage in risky sexual behaviors. Their concern, while understandable, does not have to become true. There are many resources that talk about ways to protect oneself from contracting STIs. Websites such as http://www.scarleteen.com/, http://sexetc.org/, and http://www.itsyoursexlife.com/ provide excellent information about STI prevention.

So, having permissive sexual attitudes is not necessarily a death sentence. It just means that we have to take a deeper look into what sexuality means to us in general, into the evolution of relationships and what it means to be a young person today.

Let’s have that conversation together.

Until next time…   



Ward, L. M., Epstein, M., Caruthers, A., & Merriwether, A. (2011). Men’s media use, sexual cognitions, and sexual risk behavior: Testing a mediational model. Developmental Psychology, 47(2), 592-602. doi:10.1037/a0022669

Ward, L. M., & Friedman, K. (2006). Using TV as a guide: Associations between television viewing and adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behavior. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 16(1), 133-156.

Ward, L. M., & Rivadeneyra, R. (1999). Contributions of entertainment television to adolescents’ sexual attitudes and expectations: The role of viewing amount versus viewer involvement. Journal of Sex Research, 36(3), 237-249.



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