Sex Sells

Have you ever heard the old adage, “sex sells?” Well, media campaigns these days are really taking it to heart and are affecting teenagers in countless ways.

Check out some of these staggering statistics:

  • Teenagers view 14,000 images of sex from the media every year (Pinkleton, et al., 2008).
  • 3 of 4 teens say television makes sex seem like normal behavior (Pinkleton, et al., 2008).
  • Research has shown that the media perpetuate myths about love and romance such as- Your soul mate is predestined, therefore, you can never be separated. Or your soul mate knows what you are thinking, so you never need to communicate with them (Fleming, 2007).

Even more staggering, check out what is happening to the viewing audience of the motto “sex sells:”

  • Four million teens suffer from an STD (Pinkleton, et al., 2008).
  • 34% of women under the age of 20 have been pregnant (Pinkleton, et al., 2008).
  • The US has the highest rate of teen pregnancy and birth in the Western industrialized world (Pinkleton, et al., 2008).

The images portrayed by media make sex seem normal and like the “cool” thing to do. And with 14,000 images being sent to us a year, it seems like an inescapable truth that the media is a huge source of information about sex to children, teenagers, and adults alike.

However, researchers have found there are steps educators can take to counteract the illicit images media consumers see everyday.

According to Pinkleton, Austin, Cohen, Chen, and Fitzgerald (2008), peer-led media literacy programs have been positively affecting teens’ choices regarding sex. A program was designed by the University of Washington and Teen Futures Media Network, and further taught by young adults to teenagers. The lessons focused on how the media use sex to sell, the saying no option, statistics, and others.

The groups were then given a post test to perceive the effects of the media literacy campaign against sex in the media. According to the post test, teens reported that they were less likely to overestimate the extent of teens who are sexually active, less likely to see the benefits of sex, more aware of sexual  myths, and less likely to see sex as desirable. (Pinkleton, et al., 2008).

It’s unreasonable to think the media are going to stop using sex as a selling point when it brings them a profit, however, we can counteract the effects using media literacy.

Fleming, J.J., (2007). Critical Thinking About Sex, Love, and Romance in the Mass Media: Media Literacy Applications. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 84(2). pg. 402-403.

Pinkleton, B., Austin, E., Cohen, M., Chen, Y., & Fitzgerald, E. (2008). Effects of Peer Led Media Literacy Curriculum in Adolescents’ Knowledge and Attitudes Towards Sexual Behavior and Media  Portrayals of Sex. Health Communication, 23(5). 462-472.


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