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TeenageSexualityand Media Practice: Factoringin the Influences of Family,Friends, and School Jeanne Rogge Steele
This multi-method, qualitativestudy addresses the question:How do mass media images and messages about love, sex and relationshipsinteract with what teens learn about sexuality at home, in school, and from theirfriends? Using the Adolescents'Media Practice Model introducedby Steele & Brown(1995) as a startingpoint, this studyseeks to extendour understanding the media's role in shapingadolescents'values, attitudes,and beliefs about sex byfactoring in some of the of contextsthat intersectwith mediapractice. Data generatedthrough focus groups,mediajournals, roomtours,and in-depth interviewswith middle school and high school teens suggest that ethnicity,gender,class status, and developmentalstage influencemedia practices in importantways. Identity-teens' sense of themselvesand others-affects the media they like best, how they interactwith that media, and how they apply media matterin their everydaylives. Publicationof North Carolina'sfirst statewidesurveyof adolescent sexual behaviorrevealed that a majorityof Tar Heel teens were engaging in sex while in high school, and many were becoming sexually active in middle school. One out of six teens who took part in the 1994 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey said they had lost their virginity by age 13. Nearly three quartersof the 2,439 students surveyedreportedhaving engaged in intercourseby the 12th grade. And despite their growing awarenessthat condoms were the best defense against contractingHIV and other sexually transmitteddiseases, nearly half of these young people reportedthey did not use them. In fact, one thirdof the sexually active studentsreportedthey used no birthcontrol at all (Sheehan, 1994). In line with national statistics(AGI, 1994), the studyresultspointedto a hard reality: All adolescents are vulnerable when it comes to risky sexual behavior.It was againstthis backdropthatthe qualitativestudy reportedhere was launched. The study was guided by the premise that if we can figure out how adolescentswith differentpersonaland social identities and sociocultural backgroundsselect, interact, and apply media matterin their everydaylives, we will be able to do a betterjob of reaching them with media messages that they will listen to and act on. Key questions included:What role...