Tween, teens, and sex on TV: an analysis of sexual behaviors in adolescent programming

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University of Delaware
This study examined the amount and types of sexual content in adolescent programming. Previous research focused mainly on primetime programs, while this study looked exclusively at shows produced for and consumed by an adolescent audience. Programs included those popular teen scene programs which were popular with tweens (8 to 11 years old) and young adult programs popular with teens (12 to 15 years old). It is important to look at programming specific to this demographic because it is a critical age at which young people are socialized and may be particularly vulnerable to media messages. The two theories on which this thesis were based are social cognitive theory and cultivation theory. Findings indicated that adolescent programming as a whole does not have an excessive amount of sexual content. Young adult programs, however, had significant amount of specific sexual behaviors in the form of kissing, hugging, intimate touching, sexual suggestiveness, homosexual references, and implied heterosexual intercourse. The majority of main characters in young adult programs were sexually active as opposed to virgins, and mythical creatures such as vampires and werewolves were the most sexually active. Additionally, this research suggests that teenage sexual activity is underrepresented on teen scene programs and overrepresented on young adult programs. Results also indicated few sexual risk and responsibility messages. Finally, there was an emphasis on physical appearance in that most characters were considered very attractive and females were mainly portrayed as thin. In the context of social cognitive theory and cultivation theory, there were some risky sexual behaviors from which young viewers could observationally learn and overall these programs provide an unrealistic representation of teenage life that gives viewers limited examples of teenage social reality.