The sexual content produced by adolescents themselves on social media predominantly seems to influence their own sexual behaviour and sexual self-concept, but does not increase their stereotypical sexual beliefs. This is one of the findings of doctoral research conducted by Annemarie van Oosten, who will receive her PhD from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) on Tuesday, 10 February.
The current media climate is highly sexualised. Sexually provocative material and nudity are nowadays quite common in films, television series and music videos. Likewise, the advent of the Internet has made pornography more accessible for adolescents. This has led to concerns within society about the lack of realism with which the media portrays sexuality. Another concern is that young people are as yet unable to put unrealistic and stereotypical sexual content into perspective. Although a growing number of studies focus on the effects of sexual media on the sexual views and sexual behaviour of adolescents, little is known about the effects of sexual content generated by adolescents themselves on social media and the individual dispositions that make young people more or less susceptible to the effects of sexual media content.
To bridge this gap, Van Oosten explored the effects of both professionally produced (explicit) sexual content and the sexual content produced by adolescents on social networking sites. She also investigated whether the way young people respond to explicit sexual content depends on their pre-existing views on how boys and girls are supposed to behave with respect to sex and relationships.
Among adolescents aged 13 to 17, Van Oosten discovered that self-generated sexual content on social networking sites doesn’t necessarily have the same influence on adolescents as more traditional sexual media content. For instance, exposure to the sexy online self-presentations of others doesn’t reinforce the stereotypical notions about sex that are often portrayed in the mainstream media. Self-generated sexual content on social networking sites does, however, seem to predict adolescents’ sexual behaviour and the importance of being sexy for their overall identity. In doing so, sexual content generated by adolescents seems to reinforce the idea that sex is an important part of adolescent life.
The effects of sexual media content do not apply to all adolescents in equal measure. If and how young people are influenced depends on the degree to which sexual content corresponds with the views that adolescents already hold about sex and their everyday experiences. Van Oosten’s research shows that differences in hypergendered orientation are important in determining the way in which young people – and especially girls – respond to sexual content and their ability to put such content into perspective.
J.M.F. van Oosten, Putting Things in Perspective: Young People’s Susceptibility to the Effects of Sexual Media Content. Supervisor: Prof. J. Peter. Co-supervisor: Prof. P.M. Valkenburg.
The PhD defence ceremony will take place on Tuesday, 10 February at 14:00. Location: Agnietenkapel, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 229-231, Amsterdam.