In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sex in the Media

  • Introduction
  • Violent Erotica and Aggressive Behavior
  • Theories of Sexual Violence Effects
  • Audience Attitudes to and Interpretations of Mediated Sex
  • Sex and Computer-Mediated Environments

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Communication Sex in the Media
Barrie Gunter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0004


Mediated sex is a prevalent attribute of most forms of public entertainment. Sexual scenarios permeate fictional and factual storytelling across all the major media—books, cinema, magazines, newspapers, radio, television, and now the Internet. Although media sex undoubtedly draws attention from media consumers and is a source of titillation and enjoyment, there are concerns about the nature of many mediated sexual portrayals and the social lessons they might teach. The main concerns are that sexual portrayals cause offense or embarrassment to people, encourage young people to become sexually active before they are ready, undermine social values and moral standards, and in extreme cases cultivate socially dangerous attitudes and behaviors. There is growing concern about the increased availability of highly explicit sexual content, especially via the Internet. Even the mainstream media have been challenged for progressively pushing back the boundaries in terms of what they will publish. Nonpornographic magazines that contain multiple images of naked young woman are openly sold in retail outlets, and mainstream movies and television programs increasingly depict full-frontal nudity and explicit, albeit simulated, scenes of sexual intercourse. Nonexplicit portrayals of sex have given rise to concern because of the lessons they can allegedly teach about sexual relationships and the contexts in which such intimacy occurs. Sexual promiscuity and infidelity are frequently featured and could affect media consumers’ ideas about the acceptability of such practices. The risks associated with promiscuous behavior, from contracting sexual transmitted diseases to unwanted pregnancy, are seldom considered. In more explicit pornographic materials, there are worries about the prevalence of degrading representations of women. Women are depicted as willing and submissive participants in sex acts that are driven and controlled by the needs of men, thus symbolically legitimizing sexual violence. The presence of graphic sexual content on the Internet has further exacerbated public concerns about mediated sex because of the ease with which such content can be accessed, especially by children. All these issues and concerns have been addressed by an extensive and growing body of research. The entries cited in this bibliography represent a number of key studies in the field. Each of these publications, in turn, contains its own bibliography through which readers can discover other relevant studies about media and sex.


This section lists studies that have investigated the impact of sexual depictions on television on media consumers. This section is divided into three parts: Content, Effects on Sexual Attitudes and Beliefs, and Effects on Sexual Behavior. Content lists studies that have examined the representation of sexual activities and themes on television programs. Under Effects on Sexual Attitudes and Beliefs are studies concerned with the ways sexual portrayals in the media can influence people at a cognitive level. Such effects might include the development of beliefs that sex outside marriage is normal or that sexual promiscuity carries no health risks. They might also include attitudes such that sex outside marriage or enjoying multiple sexual partners is acceptable conduct. Such thoughts and feelings are internalized but may not necessarily become manifest in overt behavior. Effects on Sexual Behavior lists research literature that has reported or discussed evidence that overt behavior patterns can be shaped by exposure to televised messages about sex.

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