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Sexual and Violent Influences in the media

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When adolescents are trying to find out who they are and where they belong, they turn to television (Fisher, 1994). This is a serious time for the shaping of adolescent’s morals and values. This would be an ideal time for children to be informed about safe sex, sexual predators and S.T.I.s , however the average child spends approximately twenty eight hours a week watching television, which is twice as much time as they spend in school (“Facts about media violence and the effect on the American family,” 1998). Unfortunately more often than not adolescents shape their lives after characters they can relate to on prime-time television (Fisher, 1994). When sixty percent of popular television shows depict sex and/or violence and the characters committing acts such as unsafe sex, sex with multiple partners and depictions of violence on women it leads adolescents to having their real-life decisions influenced to a certain extent and their feelings towards certain issues desensitized by what is done in the mainstream media (Fisher, 1994). Sex and violence in the media increase risk-taking in teenagers.

Adolescents have an unlimited access to all media through television, internet, movies as well as their favorite magazines. Fifty-four percent of children in the U.S.A. have a television set in their bedroom, children spend more time learning about life through media than in any other manner (“Facts about media violence and the effect on the American family,” 1998). When it comes time to learn about sex in school, too often the “human” issues are passed over because the teacher may feel uncomfortable or find the topic objectional making sex education the redundant experience of learning about what sexual parts are made up of (Steele, 1999). Adolescents should be taught in school the consequences of not being careful and taking precautions when it comes to being sexually active, they should not be learning from fictional characters. Adolescents who identify closely with romantic television characters believe that birth control diminishes romance (Chapin, 2000).

Chapin (2000) brings to our attention that these adolescents associate unprotected sex with spontaneity, naturalness, pleasure and privacy. While safe sex is associated with planning, artificial, caution and work (Chapin, 2000). As Chapin reported, “At the end of 1999, there were over 25,000 cases of HIV infected among Americans between the ages of 20 and 24, and an additional 3,500 cases among those between 13 and 19. People under the age of 25 account for half of the HIV infections in the U.S.” (p. 1). The adolescents were knowledgeable of AIDS and STDs, yet they did not take appropriate precautions. Less than ten percent of sexually active adolescents used condoms consistently (Chapin, 2000).

Steele (1999) recalls, “One out of six teens in North Carolina who took part in the 1994 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey said they had lost their virginity by age 13. Nearly three quarters of the 2,439 students had sex by the twelfth grade, half of which did not use condoms and one third of which did not use any birth control at all.” Steele (1999) asks a 16 year old, black, teen mother about her favorite shows and she responds “I like to watch soap operas, even though I can’t see them since I’m in school. Sex is about everyday life. They have sex a lot and it’s so romantic” (p. 9). A sixteen year old, believing everyday life is about sex because of a soap opera, is now left with an unplanned child.

Similar to adults at social functions, teens look for people or situations “like them” in the media (Steele, 1999). When they find something that resembles them they pay attention. Therefore these teenagers leave their everyday problems up to decisions made by fictional characters (Steele, 1999). This is demonstrated when Steele (1999) asks a fourteen year old, white student what her favorite show is and why and she responds “My So Called Life because [the main character] is faced with guns, violence, drinking, drugs, sex and school. It shows ways to handle our problems and fears” (p. 9). It’s a shame that the real ways to handle these types of problems are not dealt with in the classroom but in the media. Almost fifty percent of adolescents report getting information of birth control from the media (Chapin, 2000).

As put by Fisher (1994) “evidence of harmful effects from exposure to non-violent sexually explicit media is weak and inconsistent, whereas evidence consistently shows that exposure to depictions of violence towards women, whether sexually explicit, produces acceptance of rap myths and desensitization to the suffering of rape victims” (p. 2). However television is not the only influence, music today is harsh and sexually explicit. Many fear music nowadays contributes to teen pregnancy, sexual assault, substance abuse, depression and suicide (Chapin, 2000). Not just sex and not just violence but sexual violence is a major issue considering the public opinion is considerably harsher towards depictions of sexual violence as opposed to non-sexual (Fisher, 1994).

In a survey the public was more accepting of sexual media than they were of sexually violent media (Fisher, 1994). Which makes sense considering the danger is on a much higher level when it’s sexual violence going around. Fisher (1994) performed a random digit dialing survey of adults in Seminole County Florida, analysis of the results revealed support for banning sexual media and for banning violent and sexually violent media.

People wish to ban various forms of sexual, violent and sexually violent media, yet that goal is not realistic. The media is out to get a profit off teenagers by giving them what they want and this is what they want. Adolescents learn more about life through the media than anywhere else (“Facts about media violence and the effect on the American family,” 1998). A large part of adolescence is establishing a healthy sense of independence, therefore during this time adolescences search out sources of information other than parents (Chapin, 2000). The mass media provides an interesting and available alternative and teenagers will constantly look into it for answers. Therefore any hope for changes in teenage risk-taking sexual behaviors will begin with the mass media.

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