Media restrictions on sexual content

Rating systems, parental advisories, and parental guidelines are assigned by media content producers and distributers to provide information on the content of television, movies, music, and videogames. They can be used by retailers and parents to restrict children and adolescents from purchasing or accessing media with sexually explicit or violent content.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced risky sexual behavior

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is insufficient evidence to determine whether efforts to reduce adolescent access to sexual content in the media change adolescents’ sexual behaviors. Some studies suggest an association between increased exposure to sexual content and increased frequency of risky sexual behaviors among youth (Brown 2006, Collins 2004, Chandra 2008). Other studies find no association between overall exposure and risky sexual behavior (, ), or an association that appears positive for some genres and negative for others (). Additional evidence is needed to establish causality and determine effects (Bleakley 2008, Escobar-Chavez 2005).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Citations - Evidence

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Brown 2006 - Brown JD, L’Engle KL, Pardun CJ, et al. Sexy media matter: Exposure to sexual content in music, movies, television, and magazines predicts black and white adolescents’ sexual behavior. Pediatrics. 2006;117(4):1018-27.

Chandra 2008 - Chandra A, Martino SC, Collins RL, et al. Does watching sex on television predict teen pregnancy? Findings from a national longitudinal survey of youth. Pediatrics. 2008;122(5):1047-54.

Collins 2004 - Collins RL, Elliott MN, Berry SH, et al. Watching sex on television predicts adolescent initiation of sexual behavior. Pediatrics. 2004;114(3):e280-9.

Escobar-Chavez 2005 - Escobar-Chaves SL, Tortolero SR, Markham CM, et al. Impact of the media on adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors. Pediatrics. 2005;116(Suppl 1):303-26.

Parkes 2013* - Parkes A, Wight D, Hunt K, Henderson M, Sargent J. Are sexual media exposure, parental restrictions on media use and co-viewing TV and DVDs with parents and friends associated with teenagers’ early sexual behaviour? Journal of Adolescence. 2013;36(6):1121–33.

Bleakley 2008 - Bleakley A, Hennessy M, Fishbein M, Jordan A. It works both ways: The relationship between exposure to sexual content in the media and adolescent sexual behavior. Media Psychology. 2008;11(4):443–61.

Gottfried 2013* - Gottfried JA, Vaala SE, Bleakley A, Hennessy M, Jordan A. Does the effect of exposure to TV sex on adolescent sexual behavior vary by genre? Communication Research. 2013;40(1):73-95.

Date Last Updated

Sep 10, 2014