Media restrictions on sexual content

Evidence Rating  
Insufficient Evidence
Evidence rating: Insufficient Evidence

Strategies with this rating have limited research documenting effects. These strategies need further research, often with stronger designs, to confirm effects.

Health Factors  

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.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced risky sexual behavior

What does the research say about effectiveness? This strategy is rated insufficient evidence.

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 youth1, 2, 3. Other studies find no association between overall exposure and risky sexual behavior4, 5, or an association that appears positive for some genres and negative for others4. Additional evidence is needed to establish causality and determine effects6, 7.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.

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1 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.

2 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.

3 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.

4 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.

5 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.

6 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.

7 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.

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