Contributions of Mainstream Sexual Media Exposure to Sexual Attitudes, Perceived Peer Norms, and Sexual Behavior: A Meta-Analysis



      Decades of research have examined the impact of exposure to nonexplicit portrayals of sexual content in media. There is only one meta-analysis on this topic, which suggests that exposure to “sexy media” has little to no effect on sexual behavior. There are a number of limitations to the existing meta-analysis, and the purpose of this updated meta-analysis was to examine associations between exposure to sexual media and users' attitudes and sexual behavior.


      A thorough literature search was conducted to find relevant articles. Each study was coded for associations between exposure to sexual media and one of six outcomes including sexual attitudes (permissive attitudes, peer norms, and rape myths) and sexual behaviors (general sexual behavior, age of sexual initiation, and risky sexual behavior).


      Results from 59 studies, involving 394 effect sizes, revealed that exposure to sexual media had a small but significant effect on both sexual attitudes and behaviors; the effect size was comparable to other media effects meta-analyses. Effects were stronger for adolescents than emerging adults. In addition, effects were stronger for boys than girls and for white participants compared with black participants.


      This study suggests that exposure to nonexplicit sexual media is associated with both sexual attitudes and behavior, particularly during adolescence. Implications for parents, media producers, and researchers are discussed.


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