What You See (on TV) Isn’t What You Get (in Real Life)

Studies have found that young men who watch TV shows with a lot of sexual content are more likely than their peers to begin having sex. They’re also more likely to regret that decision, according to a 2009 article in Perspectives.

Analyzing longitudinal data from a national sample of youth, Steven Martino and colleagues found that 39% of males and 61% of females who had sex for the first time during the study wished they had waited longer to do so. Young men who had seen higher amounts of sexual dialogue and activity on television were more likely than their peers to regret having had sex, even after the researchers adjusted for the total number of hours the youth had watched TV. Moreover, comparisons between survey rounds revealed that adolescents’ perceptions of the benefits of sex (e.g., that sex feels good and improves a couple’s relationship) declined most sharply among youth who had viewed higher levels of sexual content before having sex. The latter finding, according to the researchers, suggests that popular television shows inflate young men’s expectations about sex, and that youths’ initial forays into sexual activity fail to meet those expectations. Viewing higher levels of sexual content wasn’t associated with regret among young women, perhaps because their expectations about sex aren’t amplified by television shows, which are more likely to depict negative consequences of sex for females than for males.

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine