Sexy movies, television and other media have little effect on teens’ sexual behavior, according to a study that challenges a common belief among parents and policymakers.
Researchers analyzed 22 studies of the influence of media on teens’ behavior, including when they start having sex and whether they engage in risky sex. The studies, which also examined teen pregnancy, included more than 22,000 participants younger than 18.
The researchers found only a weak link between media and teen sexual behavior.
“Evidence for an association between media and sexual behavior is minimal,” said study co-author Christopher Ferguson, co-chair of psychology at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla.
Parents and peers have a much greater influence on teens’ sexual behavior, he said.
The findings were published recently in the journal Psychiatric Quarterly.
But media may influence at-risk children who lack other sources of information about sexuality, according to Ferguson.
“That is to say, when information from parents or schools are lacking, media may become the only source of information on sexuality,” he said in a journal news release.
Blaming the media might distract parents and policymakers from more significant issues related to teen sexuality, the researchers said. Parents should be encouraged to discuss sexuality with their teens; schools must offer appropriate sex education programs; and the use of peer networks to promote safe sex must be explored, Ferguson said.
“The encouraging message from our results is that the media is unlikely to thwart parental efforts to socialize children should parents take the initiative to talk directly to their children about sex,” he concluded.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on teen sexuality.