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Teen risk-taking linked to movie sex

24th July 2012

Researchers in the US say that teenagers' sexual behaviour is closely influenced by what they have seen in popular movies.


Their research found that the sexual behaviour of more than 1,200 children aged 12-14, including the age at which they began sexual activity and the riskiness of their sexual behaviour, was linked to sex scenes in some of the highest-grossing movies of that time.

After analysing the content of hundreds of popular movies released between 1998 and 2004, psychological researchers at Dartmouth College then asked the study participants which of them they had seen.

They then carried out a survey of the group six years later to find out at what age they began sexual activity.

They also quizzed the teenagers about whether they used condoms consistently or had multiple sexual partners.

They found that the respondents who had seen the most movie sex-scenes had started their sex lives earlier than those who had seen the least on-screen sexual content.

They also reported that they were less likely to use condoms with casual sexual partners, and that they had had more sexual partners than the rest of the group.

The research focused on a personality trait which peaks in young people between the ages of 10 and 15, that psychologists call sensation-seeking.

Sensation-seeking is the tendency of teenagers and young people to seek out new and intense forms of stimulation, and the researchers found a link between this trait and exposure to movie sex-scenes earlier in childhood.

Writing in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers said that greater exposure to sexual content in movies at a young age led to a higher peak of sensation-seeking in adolescents.

They said that children who are exposed to sex scenes in movies had longer periods of sensation seeking that lasted much longer than for children who had not, extending for some into their early 20s.

According to study co-author Ross O'Hara, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Missouri, popular films seemed to have a far-reaching influence on sensation-seeking traits in children and teenagers, changing their behaviour to make it more risky.

But the researchers warned that the effect of movie sex scenes was not limited to sensation-seeking, and that teenagers had also reported learning "sexual scripts" from films, which they relied upon as a guide in complicated emotional situations.

O'Hara said in a news release from the Association for Psychological Science that there was strong evidence to suggest that parents should restrict the amount of sexual content seen by their children at a young age.

However, he added that the study had not proved a direct causal link between movie sex-scenes and teen behaviour.

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