Teenage personality trait may be affected by movie’s content.

The box office hit “Wolf of Wall Street” features Leanardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and raunchy sex scenes. The extended DVD of the movie is to feature the same plot with even longer sex scenes. While DiCaprio found filming to be a fun experience that “made him feel like a rock star,” the movie’s sex scenes could have an adverse affect on teenagers. According to a study conducted by researchers at Dartmouth University, sexual content in movies influences teenagers’ perception of sex.


Dartmouth Study:

Approximately 1,200 participants ages 10 to 14 were recruited for the study. The participants were asked questions about the types of movies they watched. Six years later the children were surveyed to find out how old they were when they became sexually active and the risks they took in their sexual behavior.
“In kids ages 10-14, we were able to predict them losing their virginity at a younger age based on the types of movies they watched,” first author of the study and current Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Connecticut Health Center Dr. Ross O’Hara said. “Children who lost their virginity at a younger age had more partners and more casual sex without a condom.”
The reason for this effect is the movies’ impact on a teenager’s personality trait known as sensation seeking. Sensation seeking is a trait that shows how much someone is attracted to excitement and adventure. It explains one becoming easily bored with a task or constantly needing to try new things. Sensation seeking tends to be highest in teenagers and decreases after adolescence.
“Watching sex in movies at an earlier age leads to a spike in sensation seeking behaviors,” O’Hara said. “This is really important because our research shows that these movies are actually affecting a personality feature in teenagers which leads to risky sexual behavior.”
An increase in sensation seeking behaviors is not the only implication of sexual content in movies. Many adolescents develop scripts as a stereotype for how to do things. For example, students may develop a script for going to class that describes how they should act. A sexual script would describe how kids would act in sexual situations such as going on a date and eventually progressing to sexual intercourse.
“Kids learn sexual scripts for what happens in sexual situations,” O’Hara said. “Movies teach these scripts in how males and females interact. This is a reason for the impact of sexual content, teenagers are getting their sexual scripts from what they see on television and in movies.”
The Dartmouth study did not assess the benefits of sex education programs in combatting the effects of explicit movies. O’Hara believes media awareness could become a part of sex education classes so students are prepared to combat the dramatization of sex on the big screen.


Opposing View Point:

Paul Levinson, a professor of Communications and Media Studies at Fordham University in New York City, believes that the media has little effect on teenagers sexual activity citing teenage pregnancies and sex before the emergence of explicit content on television as evidence of the study’s falsehood.
“People get pregnant because it is human nature,” Levinson said. “No one needs the media telling them that sex is pleasurable. The idea that sex on television is increasing teenage pregnancy is absolutely ridiculous – there were teen pregnancies in ancient Greece and Rome and as far as I know they didn’t have any televisions.”
Levinson believes sex on television can be beneficial to society as a whole as it provides education on a natural part of human life.
“Sex is a part of human life – not an alien activity that is being imposed on us. It is how we survive,” Levinson said. “People generally do not do well when they are deprived of knowledge. We need as much exposure as we can get in a healthy way. More exposure and information will give us the best chance to evaluate our feelings. The media has actually done a positive thing because they have shown the use of protection and the results of teenage pregnancy which educates people.”


Student Opinions:

Many students agree with Levinson in that sex is a natural part of human life and should not be taken out of movies.
“Sex makes movies more realistic,” junior Troy DeGayner said. “They could maybe dull it down a little bit, but without sex, movies would lose their credibility because it is a part of life.”
Other students feel that the sex portrayed on the big screen is very different from real life and gives teenagers unrealistic ideas about sex or other sexual actions.
“Sex in movies can be distracting” junior Manon Steel said. “Certain people will only focus on the sex and not the concept of the movie. It can drive conservative audiences away as well.”