An Examination of Relationships Between Exposure to Sexually Explicit Media Content and Risk Behaviors: A Case Study of College Students
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Media and Communication
Sandra Faulkner (Committee Member)
Michael Horning (Committee Member)
Michael Bradie (Committee Member)
In spite of its prevalence in the contemporary media landscape, the effects of exposure to sexually explicit materials have received relatively little attention from media and communication scholars. From a Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) perspective, the present study investigated whether the consumption of sexually explicit materials predicts the adoption of risk behaviors, particularly sex- and body image-related risk behaviors. In addition, the study focused on the psychological mechanisms - represented by the Sexual Self-Concept (SSC) - that could facilitate the adoption of said risk behaviors. In order to address these issues, quantitative data was collected using a self-administered online survey design. Also, in response to mounting criticism according to which quantitative research methods could offer only truncated snapshots of individuals' interactions with sexually explicit materials, a second, qualitative data set was collected using a self-administered diary design.
The analysis of the quantitative data revealed that consumption of sexually explicit media content significantly predicts SSC scores. In turn, SSC was found to be a significant predictor of the adoption of sex-related risk behaviors (sex risk partners and sex risk practices). SSC was found to not be a significant predictor of body image health-related risk behaviors. A path model revealed that the SSC moderates the adoption of risk behaviors, thus supporting the theoretically-driven hypothesis that the SSC functions as a psychological mechanism that could facilitate the adoption of risk behaviors. Also, the path model revealed that age and gender significantly predict the adoption of risk behaviors.
Thematic analysis of the qualitative data revealed a complex and nuanced picture of participants' interactions with sexually explicit media content. The underlying assumption of most quantitative studies of pornography is that exposure to pornography is likely to have detrimental effects on consumers; however, the qualitative section of this study demonstrated that, while retaining a sense of the potentially negative influence of pornography, participants identified numerous occasions in which the consumption of sexually explicit media was seen as a beneficial, enriching presence in their lives. Participants in the qualitative phase of this study described positive, negative, and very often ambivalent encounters with sexually explicit material, which creates a more nuanced understanding of how people engage with this type of media content. The overarching theme that emerged in the analysis of the qualitative data was the theme of "ambivalence" manifested by participants both towards pornography per se as well as towards the perceived influence of consumption of pornography on individuals and on romantic relationships.
Along with the theoretical importance of identifying the SSC as a mediating factor in the adoption of risk behaviors, this result allows health campaigns to target precisely the mechanisms that mediate the adoption of risk behaviors. Having more calibrated approach, health campaigns thus designed could reach significantly higher rates of success. The results in the qualitative section of the study call for a re-conceptualization of sexually explicit media content and its audiences in a manner that accounts for the vast array of available material, as well as for the active, discriminate approach of the audiences to pornography.
Stana, Alexandru, "An Examination of Relationships Between Exposure to Sexually Explicit Media Content and Risk Behaviors: A Case Study of College Students" (2013). Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations. 17.