OBJECTIVE. To assess over time whether exposure to sexual content in 4 mass media (television, movies, music, and magazines) used by early adolescents predicts sexual behavior in middle adolescence.
METHODS. An in-home longitudinal survey of 1017 black and white adolescents from 14 middle schools in central North Carolina was conducted. Each teen was interviewed at baseline when he or she was 12 to 14 years old and again 2 years later using a computer-assisted self interview (audio computer-assisted self-interview) to ensure confidentiality. A new measure of each teen’s sexual media diet (SMD) was constructed by weighting the frequency of use of 4 media by the frequency of sexual content in each television show, movie, music album, and magazine the teen used regularly.
RESULTS. White adolescents in the top quintile of sexual media diet when 12 to 14 years old were 2.2 times more likely to have had sexual intercourse when 14 to 16 years old than those who were in the lowest SMD quintile, even after a number of other relevant factors, including baseline sexual behavior, were introduced. The relationship was not statistically significant for black adolescents after controlling for other factors that were more predictive, including parental disapproval of teen sex and perceived permissive peer sexual norms.
CONCLUSIONS. Exposure to sexual content in music, movies, television, and magazines accelerates white adolescents’ sexual activity and increases their risk of engaging in early sexual intercourse. Black teens appear more influenced by perceptions of their parents’ expectations and their friends’ sexual behavior than by what they see and hear in the media.