Durham (2007) argues that the adolescents, particularly transnational immigrants, struggles with their sexual identity. The diaspora of these young immigrants from their homeland to a foreign country have led to their struggles in constructing their identity of the self.
Stimulated by the proliferation of pop culture in the mainstream mass media, the denotations and values of sexuality among adolescents are gradually being influenced by the highly sexualised images saturated in the mass media today (Durham 2007).
One content analysis found that sexual content that ranged from flirting to sexual intercourse had increased from slightly more than half of television programs in 1997-1998 to more than two-thirds of the programs in 1999-2000. Aside from broadcast media, magazines targeted at teenage girls, such as Seventeen and Glamour, also features content that focuses on what girls and women should do to get and keep their man (Brown 2002).
One study have indicated that exposure to sexually suggestive materials is associated with premarital sex (Werner-Wilson 2004). The rising rates of early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy is a public concern. The mass media is now being condemned for adolescents’ engagement with sexuality.
This phenomenon of saturated sexual content in mass media have caused tension among immigrant adolescents who experienced very distinctive cultural differences in the United States, from their indigenous culture. Durham (2002) refers particularly to South Asian immigrants in the U.S. This is because South Asian immigrant parents focuses on conservativeness and are more traditional in its cultural teachings when compared to Western parents who are more open-minded when it comes to relationships and sexual activity among their adolescent children. Then again, growing up in the U.S. and constantly being exposed to sexual content in the mass media have caused tension among immigrant adolescents who struggle to balance their indigenous, traditional culture of practicing sex abstinence with the glorified message of embracing and exploring sexuality.
To further illustrate the correlation between media content and premarital sex, I discuss the reality television series on MTV, 16 and Pregnant, and its spin-off series, Teen Mom.
16 and Pregnant is a reality television series produced by and broadcasted on MTV. The show’s first season premiered in June 2009 and follows the journey of pregnant teenage girls (still in high school) struggling with teenage pregnancy.
Initially, the show was meant as an educational program to promote sex abstinence and safe sex practice among high school students in the U.S. By showcasing the hardships of teenage pregnancy, the producers hope to influence the mindset of teenagers to practice sex abstinence (Intelligencer Journal/ Lancaster New Era 30 April 2011, p.1).
However, the show have since then received criticism for glorifying teen pregnancy. The spin-off series, Teen Mom, which follows four teenage mothers in their first year of parenthood, was being labeled as encouraging sexual intercourse among teenagers. This is because the mothers in the show are gradually being labeled as “celebrities”, constantly being featured on tabloid covers and making appearances in events.
Critics have condemned the show for glorifying teenage sex and teenage pregnancy by providing a platform for the teenage mothers to make money off their children. Critics pointed out that the shows are a form of misleading communication, sending inappropriate messages to teenagers. Instead of viewing the show as an example NOT to engage in premarital sex, teenagers have came to interpret that premarital sex is anything but inappropriate. Taking the teenage mothers on the show as “role models”, teenagers view the show as a stepping stone to fame, being celebrities, and reaping large sum of money from the television show (Intelligencer Journal/ Lancaster New Era 30 April 2011, p.1).
The proliferation of sexual content and images in the mainstream mass media have undoubtedly changed the values and virtues of the populace. Issues such as premarital sex and teenage pregnancy will persist as the access to such content is made possible not just through mass media, but through the Internet as well.
Brown, JD 2002, ‘Mass media influences on sexuality’, The Journal of Sex Research, vol.39, no.1, pp42-45, accessed 4/6/2014, ProQuest Central database.
Durham, MG 2007, ‘Constructing the “new ethnicities”: media, sexuality, and diaspora identity in the lives of South Asian immigrant girls’, Critical Studies in Media Communication, vol.21, no.2, pp140-161, accessed 4/6/2014, Taylor and Francis Online database.
Werner-Wilson, RJ, Fitzharris, JL & Morrissey, KM 2004, ‘Adolescent and parent perceptions of media influence on adolescent sexuality’, Adolescence, vol.39, no.154, pp303-313, accessed 4/6/2014, ProQuest Central database.