Two approaches to sexual development are reviewed in this report. In this approach, sex is considered good and essential to human functioning. There are several inherent ethical and practical problems in doing research on children's and adolescents' sexual knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. This design would maximize the information obtainable in a five-year period, and would allow for follow-up in later years, were funding available. In preparing the report, we convened a Forum of twenty scholars with expertise in sexuality, sexual development, media analysis, and media effects to discuss these issues. Given the recent explosion in new media choices such as the Internet, computer games, and niche cable channels, it is imperative that we have an understanding of what media kids are using, and how and why they are using them.
Some of the proposed experimental techniques include manipulating outcomes of sexual media messages to measure immediate effects on children's knowledge, schemas, attitudes and even behaviors. Any attempt to understand the influence of media on young people should begin with an assessment of both the amount and patterns of media use among children. Studies of sexual messages in movies and on television prime-time, soaps, and music videos have been studied most heavily have found that over the past twenty years, there has been an overall increase in the number of portrayals and the amount of talk about sex in these media and an increase in the explicitness of these portrayals. Research in this area should be conducted by interdisciplinary teams of investigators, with expertise in the area of sexual development and others with expertise in media research. As we have previously noted there is little systematic knowledge about the effects of sexual content. Given the recent explosion in new media choices such as the Internet, computer games, and niche cable channels, it is imperative that we have an understanding of what media kids are using, and how and why they are using them. Once preliminary research is conducted on the effects of sexual content, an accelerated longitudinal design with overlapping cohorts would be the next recommended approach. This report was prepared at the request of the Foundation to examine the methodological options for investigating the effects of sexual content in the media on children and adolescents. The broad outline of these issues can be subsumed under several general principles regarding the protection of human subjects, which have been articulated by the federal research directors. This report is not intended to debate these opinions, rather, it is a review and discussion of social scientific methods which provide publicly shared, objective, empirical, and replicable information that can be used to build a cumulative body of knowledge of this area. We certainly encourage research across many disciplines and funding agencies both federal and private , but a central guiding framework is needed. Our final recommendation concerns the process for bootstrapping research in this entire area. Future research should include in its framework theories about sexuality, sexual development, and media effects. Furthermore, the television research shows a fairly consistent sexual message across TV genres: Huston, Ellen Wartella, and Edward Donnerstein Executive Summary The Kaiser Family Foundation has an ongoing interest in sexual health among young people and the potential contributions of mass media to sexual behavior. A second phase of research could employ the field experiment technique, best used in cooperation with the media industry. This design would maximize the information obtainable in a five-year period, and would allow for follow-up in later years, were funding available. There are several inherent ethical and practical problems in doing research on children's and adolescents' sexual knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. Though many studies have looked at the amount and nature of sexual depictions on television, future content analyses should be more theoretically guided and contextually situated. One cannot generalize the validity or reliability of measures used with adult populations to children and adolescents particularly in this research domain. We encourage researchers to think creatively about additional research design options. Small-scale studies laboratory, survey, observational can permit refinement of questions, measures and methods in a relatively low-cost and efficient way. We believe that an initiative akin to the Surgeon General's study of Television and Social Behavior would be useful. There is need for an accumulated body of systematic studies using a variety of methods with a variety of populations. The purposes of this report are to review what we know about the relations of entertainment media to sexual development during childhood and adolescence, to consider methodological issues and challenges in studying this topic, and to propose some fruitful directions for future research.
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