Researchers have given parents another reason to be across what movies the kids are watching. They’ve found that adolescents who are exposed to more sexual content in movies start having sex at a younger age, have more sexual partners, and are less likely to use condoms with casual sexual partners.
Scientists set out to examine whether or not seeing sex on the big screen translates into sex in the real world for adolescents. They began by analysing 684 top-grossing movies from 1998 to 2004 for seconds of sexual content, like heavy kissing or sexual intercourse. The films ranged from G-rated to PG-13+ (similar to Australia’s M rating). (Interestingly, they noted that most of the recent films do not portray safe sex, with little mention of contraception.)
A test group of more than 1,200 adolescents, aged 12-14 years, then reported which of the films they had seen. They were surveyed six years later about how old they were when they became sexually active and how risky their sexual behaviour might have been – Did they use condoms consistently? Were they monogamous or did they have multiple partners?
Not only did the researchers find that the sexual content of film influenced real-life behaviour, they uncovered some of the reasons why.
Between the ages of ten and fifteen is a peak time for seeking more novel and intense stimulation of all kinds. It was found that greater exposure to sexual content in movies at a young age actually led to a higher peak in sensation-seeking during adolescence.
“These movies appear to fundamentally influence their personality through changes in sensation-seeking,” said Ross O’Hara, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Missouri who helped conduct the research. “Which has far-reaching implications for all of their risk-taking behaviors.”
The researchers also speculate that adolescents learn specific behaviours from the sexual messages in movies. “Many adolescents turn to movies to acquire ‘sexual scripts’ that offer examples of how to behave when confronted with complicated emotional situations,” says Professor O’Hara.
Although the research could not conclude a direct causal effect of movies on sexual behaviour, O’Hara says, “This study, and its confluence with other work, strongly suggests that parents need to restrict their children from seeing sexual content in movies at young ages.”