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Audience differences in the perception of sexual content in media directed at teens

Jennifer A. Manganello, PhD, MPH, Nicole D. Trentacoste, MPH, Amy Jordan, PhD, Suzanne Martin, PhD, Vani Henderson, MsC, Michael H Hennessy, MPH, PhD, and Martin Fishbein, PhD. Public Policy Center, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, 3620 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, 215-573-8366, jmanganello@asc.upenn.edu

Many public health studies have used content analysis to examine media that teens use. However, research in this domain typically assumes that adults and teens view media the same way, or that teens themselves agree about media content. To examine teens’ perceptions of sexual content, we conducted 13 focus groups (n=90 participants) in 2003 and 2004 with teens in an urban area to explore issues related to sexual behavior and sex in the media. The sample was diverse (by gender and race) and ranged in age from 12 to 18. Participants watched a prime-time television scene and listened to a currently popular song, and completed questionnaires about sexual content. The level of agreement among teens varied among the categories. Boys reported hearing or seeing more sexual content than girls, older teens perceived more sexual content than younger teens, and teens of other races perceived more sex in the media than African American teens. A separate group of adults viewed the same media units and answered the same questions about sexual content (n=21). Results showed disagreement between teens and adults regarding certain categories of sexual content, with adults often viewing media as more sexual than teens. As an example, 76% of adults thought sexual intercourse was implied in the song compared to 47% of teens (p=.015). Content analysis studies or research examining media effects on teen behavior should consider ways that audience characteristics may affect interpretation of media content, and account for that in research design.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Adolescents, Media

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Focus on the Adolescent/Young Adult in Health Communication Research

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA