A new study out of Dartmouth College confirms what savvy parents have known for years: Hollywood movies are sexually charged, and that fact negatively impacts teenagers who watch them. The study by psychological researchers at Dartmouth and published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, found that youth who regularly view movies with sexual content have a greater tendency to begin engaging in sexual activity at a younger age, have more casual sexual partners, and engage in what the researchers referred to as “unsafe sexual practices” — e.g., having sex without a condom.
“Much research has shown that adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behaviors are influenced by media,” said Ross O’Hara, the lead researcher in the study. “But the role of movies has been somewhat neglected, despite other findings that movies are more influential than TV or music.”
Prior to the study, O’Hara and his fellow Dartmouth researchers surveyed nearly 700 of the top-grossing movies from 1998 to 2004, rating the movies for sexual content ranging from heavy kissing to sexual intercourse. They then recruited 1,228 adolescent participants between the ages of 12 and 14, asking them to report on the movies they had seen from collections of 50 randomly chosen titles. After six years the youth were surveyed on whether or not they were sexually active, when they became sexually active, how many partners they had, and the level of risk of their sexual activity. According to O’Hara, the research found that those youth who had been exposed to sexual content in movies tended to be more highly sexualized than those who are sheltered from such content.