Title: Self-objectification and sexual effects of the media: an exploratory study in adolescence
Authors: Vandenbosch, Laura
Issue Date: 25-Sep-2013
Abstract: Various social institutions and scholars across numerous academic fields have called attention to the potential negative effects of media use on adolescents’ sexual development. This concern emerged partly because of adolescents’ regular (if not daily) consumption of media content that promotes irresponsible, recreational, sexualizing and gender-stereotypical sexual activities. Despite scholars’ extensive efforts to study the potential effects of exposure to such media, some researchers continue to challenge the empirical evidence of sexual media effects. One of the reasons for this lack of consensus is that researchers face important questions about precisely how the influence of sexual media content operates. Because the scholarly attention to the complexity of the sexual media effect has so far remained limited, the dissertation aimed to contribute to our knowledge of the processes through which exposure to media may affect adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behaviors. This aim was twofold.A first aim was to explore how factors that are indicative of adolescents’ personalities and development may moderate the relationship between media use and sexual attitudes and behaviors and how it may identify adolescents who are at risk for sexual media effects. In this view, three studies examined the relevance of a risk-group focused approach by exploring the moderating role of (respectively) a prime socialization factor (i.e., maternal attachment), a personality trait (i.e., sensation seeking), and a biosocial factor (i.e., pubertal maturation) in sexual media effects. The first study, a cross-sectional study (N = 1,026), demonstrated that girls who displayed greater attachment to their mothers appeared to be less susceptible for the harmful influence of television viewing on their recreational and gender-stereotypical sexual attitudes; conversely, boys who displayed greater attachment to their mothers were more likely to be influenced by television viewing. The second study, a two-wave panel study (N = 1, 096), found that girls who demonstrated higher levels of sensation seeking and boys who demonstrated lower levels of sensation seeking were more susceptible to the negative influence of sexual television content on their’ attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration. Higher levels of sensation seeking among boys and lower levels of sensation seeking among girls appeared to decrease the influence of sexual television viewing. The third study, a two-wave panel study (N = 639), demonstrated that frequent users of sexually explicit websites were five times more likely to initiate sexual intercourse than non-users. Pubertal status moderated this relationship: an increased likelihood to initiate sex was found among adolescents in an early pubertal stage who frequently viewed sexually explicit websites. However adolescents in an advanced pubertal stage were less likely to initiate sex. Together, these findings demonstrate not only the relevance of conducting moderatoranalyses within sexualmedia effect research, but also that moderators may not unilaterally identify adolescents who are at risk of sexual media effects as, for instance, higher levels of sensation seeking decreased the impact of sexual television messages among boys. A second aim was to explore whether objectification theory allows us to identify mediating factors in the relationship between adolescents’ exposure to sexual media and their sexual attitudes and behaviors. Objectification theory explains why sexualizing media messages, which value appearance above personality, encourage adolescents to apply an observer’s perspective to their own body. The internalization of this type of objectified perspective on the body may subsequently lead adolescents to develop sexual attitudes that do not foster authentic, rewarding, intimate sexual relationships and to engage in sexual behaviors that are associated with heightened physical and mental health risks. Before testing this explanatory process, two cross-sectional studies were conducted to examine how the recent, advanced understanding of an objectified self-concept related to the sexualizing media use of girls (N = 558) and boys (N = 911). The study findings indicated the relevance of a three-step perspective, demonstrating that sexualizing media use affects the internalization of appearance ideals and self-objectification, is indirectly related to self-objectification through internalization, and is associated with body surveillance through internalization and self-objectification. Building on this insight in the three-step process of self-objectification, two studies tested the ability of the three-step process of self-objectification to explain the effects of media on (respectively) adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behaviors. The first study, a three-wave panel study (N = 1,041) demonstrated that viewing sexualizing sitcoms was related to the three-step process of self-objectification over time. In turn, the internalization of appearance ideals was revealed to positively predict acceptance of the sexual double standard over time. The relationships between self-objectification or body surveillance and acceptance of the sexual double standard were found to be insignificant. The second study, a three-wave panel study (N = 730), provided additional support for the influence of sexualizing media (i.e., magazines) on the multidimensional process of self-objectification over time. Body surveillance appeared to positively predict the initiation of French kissing six months later, whereas self-objectification positively predicted the initiation of sexual intercourse six months later. No significant relationship emerged for intimate touching. The main question guiding these studies was whether objectification theory has the potential to clarify how sexual media affect adolescent sexuality. The study findings add some critical questions about the explanatory role of objectification theoryin sexual media effects, as several hypothesized relationships were not supported (e.g., null findings for intimate touching). However, they also demonstrate that, in some cases, objectification theory contributes to an explanatory model for sexual media effects and warrants future research attention.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Formerly "Subfaculteit Antwerpen/Handelswetenschappen - TM A"
Leuven School for Mass Communication Research
Formerly "Subfaculteit Antwerpen/Taal & Communicatie - TM A"

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