Children’s Exposure to Sex in Movies Linked to Risky Sexual Behavior

Movies have ratings for a reason. Some suggest there be parental guidance (PG) for young viewers while others restrict (R) those younger than 18 years of age. Violence, language, and sex are usually the reasons for movie ratings. Researchers at Dartmouth College recently conducted a study that validates the importance of parental guidance and awareness in movies their children are watching.

The research team’s soon-to-be published article, in the journal Psychological Science, states that the earlier in youth and more frequently a teen views movies with sexual content the more likely they are to start having sex at a younger age and have more sexual partners, and skip the use of protective condoms.

Adolescents are natural sensation-seekers, according to the research team led by Ross O’Hara, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Missouri. Between the ages of 10 and 15 they seek out new exciting forms of stimulation in their lives from venues as common as roller-coasters and as dangerous as drugs.

After O’Hara’s team analyzed the sexual content in popular movies released between 1998 and 2004, they surveyed over 1,200 children aged 12 to 14 about their viewing of these movies. Six years later, those children told the research team at what age they became sexually active, how many sexual partners they had, and if they had or had not used condoms.

Researchers found that the more sexual scenes the teens had viewed, the higher their peak of sensation-seeking activity. The sensation seeking trait can keep influencing youth even into their early 20’s.

How exactly do the movies influence the teens? Researchers suggest that vivid images, actions, and seductions give the teens possible scripts to use in their own personal situations. Adolescents are curious about the opposite sex and their future relationships. They are on the verge of entering a world of dating and march into it anxious, insecure, excited, hopeful, and confused at the complications that attraction can do to the mind and body.

Teens that view several movies with sexual content take mental note of how they think they should act in intimate situations. Some movie situations may suggest to them to take things further than maybe they had originally planned.

Studies haven’t proven any direct cause-and-effect of movies on sexual behavior, but O’Hara stresses that parents should still be vigilant about knowing what their children are watching and restricting them from viewing movies that are inappropriate for their age group.

While G-rated movies and R-rated movies are easy extremes to place into appropriate and inappropriate categories, PG-13 movies may need closer discretion. Sharing a movie as a family ensures that an adult is there to fast-forward through the awkward moments. Previewing why movies have certain ratings will also help parents know what their teen will be watching when they go out to movies with friends or watch them at a friend’s home.

Most importantly, parents should be aware of what their children are watching so they can discuss with their child and listen to their child about questions and thoughts they have about the reality of those moments.

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