The Role of the Media in Shaping Sexuality

Media plays a vital role in the society. This paper focuses on the role of media in shaping sexuality. It is essential to address the topic to create better attitudes and behaviors toward sexuality, especially for young people who rely heavily on social media for education. In adolescence, teenagers learn gender roles, sexual behaviors, and attitudes. They accumulate many messages from the media, which determines their decisions. A popular trend in the media is a portrayal that men do not express their emotions while women do so. Most characters in the media wear provocative clothes, and their body movements communicate their sexual desires more than their words. American children live in homes with one or more televisions, indicating heavy consumption. Understanding media’s role in sexuality will guide show producers to learn what to promote and avoid. Parents, teachers, and guardians will learn about teenagers’ needs in their sexuality development journey and meet them. As a result, the general society will be more empowered about sexuality matters, leading to suitable attitudes and behaviors.

The peer-reviewed scholarly journals used in this paper emphasize several themes. They explore women objectification, describing how males and females behave in romantic relationships. They also assess attitudes, norms, and behaviors that media promotes and how it determines young adults’ understanding of what is right and wrong regarding sexual encounters. The sources also explore the media’s presentation of males and females, specifically the stereotypes involved. Finally, they address youths’ attitudes and behaviors due to media consumption. This paper explores the role of media in shaping sexuality. The paper assesses gender objectification, the attitudes, norms, and behaviors that media promotes. Also, it assesses whether media promotes gender stereotypes and the behaviors that teenagers consume the content shown.

Literature Review

Objectification of Women

Media shapes narratives and expectations about both genders’ sexuality. The mainstream media determines how women and men court and interact in romantic associations. Ward et al. (2022) evaluated gendered sexual scripts and their impacts on viewers’ sexual behaviors. They interviewed diverse US youths. They found that the mainstream media persuades that men and women behave differently. Young women characters are passive-aggressive and prioritize physical appearance to attract men (Ward et al., 2022).

On the other hand, men are more assertive, and they are emotionally detached as compared to women (Ward et al., 2022). Their inability to connect emotionally with women leads to objectification. The study found that the strong differentiation between the genders causes psychological distress, reduces sexual agency, and prolongs dysfunctional beliefs in romantic relationships. African Americans are adversely affected, as they must address gender and cultural stereotypes (Ward et al., 2022). The study suggests that subsequent studies should assess the impacts of new media platforms, diversify populations in the study, and look out for positive scripts in the media.

According to Brown (2020), media platforms such as music, the internet, movies, and magazines prioritize sexual content. The longitudinal study evaluated different platforms, concluding that they shape teenagers’ sexual beliefs and behaviors. Brown (2020) found that media shows sexual and relationship norms. For example, women’s role is to satisfy men, and their satisfaction is not a priority. This attitude makes women associate their appearance with the likelihood of attracting men. Men view women as objects to satisfy their sexual needs. Media portrays sexual engagement in men as a need, while in women, it is a want (Brown, 2020). Moreover, the platforms do not spread awareness of sexual responsibility. Associated risks like teenage pregnancy are rarely covered. The study also asserts that more studies should determine how teenagers interpret sexual content and how it impacts their sexual development.

Attitudes, Norms, and Behaviors

Another evident theme from the journals involves attitudes, norms, and behaviors that the media advocate. Coyne et al. (2019) assessed the linkage between sexual media exposure to viewers’ attitudes and behaviors, such as rape myths, peer norms, and permissiveness. They used a meta-analysis method after learning they were limited in addressing the topic. Fifty-nine studies were selected, with 394 effect sizes (Coyne et al., 2019). They found that exposure to sexual media increases permissive sexual attitudes, sexual norms, and rape myths. More youths than adults are affected since the content encourages them to engage in sexual behaviors while risks are rarely addressed (Coyne et al., 2019). The media portrays sexual behaviors as recreational. It affects teenagers’ decision-making because they solely focus on the benefits and ignore the outcomes. For example, they engage in unprotected sexual intercourse, and rape victims are blamed. The study concludes that the media does more harm than good for not presenting both sides of sexual engagement.

Considering that media is diverse, different ideas are shared, affecting adolescents’ attitudes and behaviors. Laporte et al. (2020) compared traditional and contemporary media. They interviewed participants who interacted with both forms of media. A key finding is that traditional media objectifies sex and presents it as risk and responsibility-free (Laporte et al., 2020). On the other hand, mainstream pornography shows sexual encounters as violent and aggressive. The study notes that the mixture of the information presented increases risky sexual behaviors and experiences (Laporte et al., 2020). It also suggests that parents and media change the contents and focus on sex education, protection, and abstinence. These changes will bring new attitudes and norms that motivate youths to maximize safety. Coyne et al. (2019) and Laporte et al. (2020) conclude that media content does not promote safe sexual behaviors. Hence, there is a need to address this so that adverse consequences are shown in the media, enabling young views to make informed decisions.

Gender Stereotypes

Studies also claim that media increases gender stereotypes. According to Galdi and Guizzo (2021), the media increases gender stereotypes by dehumanizing women and shifting gender norms. The study relied on Media Induced Sexual Harassment framework to develop conclusions. They mention a 2018 study that analyzed a hundred movies, assessing how males and females are presented. They found that the female characters mainly wear revealing clothes, and their physical appearance and sexual readiness shape their worth (Galdi & Guizzo, 2021). It increases female harassment because men feel justified. They also found that the media encourages women dehumanization that bystander interventions are low (Galdi & Guizzo, 2021). For example, when a woman expresses that she is abused, people do not intervene well, as harassing women is normalized. Instead, victims are blamed, and the argument rarely steers towards sexual morality. Less intervention is evident when the violence involves intimate and married partners. As reported, fewer women report domestic sexual harassment since their needs are rarely met.

Ward and Grower (2020) reviewed scholarly articles published between 2000 and 2020. They selected those assessing how media develops gender stereotypes in teenagers and children. They found positive changes in presenting both feminine and masculine characters, but the rates should be increased. Also, they found that people who consume many media show more stereotypic gender beliefs than others (Ward & Grower, 2020). For instance, they put more emphasis on girls’ and women’s physical appearance in determining whether men want to have intimate interactions with them. Stereotypes on sex toys, occupations, and traditional sexual roles are also high. They suggest that future studies need to study the effects of media on boys and youths from minority backgrounds to develop more information on developmental milestones.

The Attitudes and Behaviors Of Youths

Finally, the studies justify that media shapes youths’ attitudes and behaviors. They rely on social media to differentiate between right and wrong sexual behaviors. De Ridder (2017) assessed how teenager defines their sense of sexuality from social media. Eighty-nine participants (52 and 37), girls and boys respectively, were involved. They were between fourteen and nineteen ages (De Ridder, 2017). One finding is that the participants used social media to convince others of their smartness in executing sexual risks (De Ridder, 2017). A participant expressed that Tinder is an ineffective interaction method, and others challenged the claim, citing partners who met on the platform. They also mentioned that it is okay to share sexual messages as people engage in romantic relationships with people they trust. The participants also mentioned that social media is overwhelming, as people show many intimate details, such as kisses. Participants who reflected on social media were likelier to identify risky behaviors and distanced themselves from friends engaging in them. Sargayos (2017) assesses the association between media consumption and female teenagers’ sexuality. The article reviews the literature, determining that though social media has positive aspects, it has drawbacks. It enables teenagers to have more power, increasing their self-esteem. On the other hand, it heightens harmful gender roles and leads to body dissatisfaction. Heavier girls feel sexually unattractive since the media portrays petite women as beautiful over others.


Agreements and Disagreements

Studies agree that media is influential in determining teenagers’ sexual attitudes and behaviors. Media shapes their sexual norms because it glorifies engagement in sexual behaviors as a recreational activity. They are ignorant of the effects of the practices on mental and physical health. Ward et al. (2022) and Brown (2020) describe objectification, where women are portrayed as objects to satisfy men’s desires. More emphasis is put on women’s appearance and clothing in determining their attractiveness to men. It makes female teenagers become sexual pleasers and focus on being wanted by men instead of selecting the right partners. Galdi & Guizzo (2021) adds that objectifying women leads to dehumanization and justifies rape myths. Bystanders are less likely to assist victims of sexual harassment. Instead, victims are blamed, leading to less reporting and seeking assistance. According to Ward and Grower (2020), stereotypic gender beliefs increase with more media exposure. More teenagers believe that men are emotionally distant and women should please them. Stereotypes on sex toys, occupations, and traditional sexual roles are also high. Coyne et al. (2019) and Laporte et al. (2020) focus on media’s impacts on attitudes and behaviors. They agree that the media portrays sexual activity as fun while risks are rarely shown. It makes teenagers engage in sexual behaviors unquestioningly. Moreover, they are excited to showcase their involvement in risky sexual behaviors. Generally, the articles agree that media exposure has more negative than positive effects on teenagers. They recommend a need for positive scripting and coverage of adverse consequences to empower youths to make more informed sexual behaviors.


The studies make several conclusions. Media has a significant influence on adolescents’ sexuality. It promotes women objectification, promotes traditional gender stereotypes, and worsens harmful attitudes, norms, and behaviors regarding sexual engagement (Ward et al., (2022); (Brown, 2020); (Galdi & Guizzo, 2021); (Ward & Grower, 2020); (Coyne et al., 2019) and Laporte et al., (2020). Women are objectified, which prevents them from seeking support when sexually harassed. It is worse for married women because they are assumed to belong to their men. As a result, when they report sexual harassment, they are blamed and expected to meet the males’ interests. De Ridder, 2017) adds that the media has normalized engagement in adverse sexual behaviors. Participants who disliked Tinder were criticized, as others listed couples who met on the platform. The study notes that teenagers are keener on successful online encounters without assessing possible adverse outcomes. They said harmful outcomes rarely occur since people select romantic partners based on trust.

Nevertheless, reflective teenagers identified risks and reported to distance themselves from others. Sargayos (2017) also found out that women are adversely affected by medical exposure. The heavier ones experience body dissatisfaction because the media convinces them that they are less beautiful and, thus, less sexually attractive. The studies conclude that media exposure is harmful regarding sexuality because it develops gender and societal stereotypes that enslave women longer and kill their confidence. After all, they are expected to uphold unrealistic sexual expectations that disregard their needs and values.


Several gaps in the current literature regarding the role of media in shaping sexuality are evident. The studies do not explore the long-term impacts of media exposure on teenagers. They prioritize teenage behaviors and do not assess if the impacts persist in adulthood. Addressing this is essential to ensure adult sexual relationship issues are fixed. In adulthood, most people have sexual partners and enter into long-term commitments like cohabitation and marriage. If the adverse outcomes prolong to adulthood, there is a need for marriage counselors to include a media role in interacting with couples. Another gap is that the studies do not focus on specific populations. For example, none of the studies assess the effects of media on African Americans and other minorities. Culture plays a role in sexuality, hence the need to assess how specific populations interact with media and its evident effects. Studies should be population-specific so that their findings and conclusions apply to the general population.

Moreover, the current literature puts more emphasis on females than males. Sexual harassment occurs more in females than men, but there is a need to balance between the genders. For example, studies should assess whether bystanders are more proactive in assisting male victims. Balancing the genders will give more profound conclusions, enabling society to fix the challenges. The current literature does not assess whether males experience body dissatisfaction like females. Media portrays petite women as more sexually appealing, and teenagers not fitting the expectation can experience less attraction. However, the literature does not assess whether non-masculine males feel less attractive.

Next Steps and Further Research Needed

More research on how media affects different demographic groups while considering age, race, gender, and cultural background is required to close the current gaps. They should study African Americans and other minorities’ experiences with media exposure. It will progress the field, as counselors and other parties interacting with teenagers will provide better guidelines. Race is a crucial element based on its role in socioeconomic status. For example, most Blacks have low incomes, which can impact their media exposure. Future studies should assess whether teenagers from all races access similar media content and assess differences. As a result, teenagers from different races will access more aligning information. There is also a need to balance between the genders. As evident, current literature prioritizes females because they are objectified more than males. It is essential to have boys-related data, mainly because both genders consume media.


In conclusion, this paper explores in great detail how the media influences people’s ideas and attitudes toward human sexuality, concentrating on how gender stereotypes and the objectification of women affect young people’s attitudes and behaviors. All the literature reviewed revealed that media has a significant impact on sexual attitudes, norms, and behaviors. Although there are no apparent disagreements in the literature, they all shed light on different aspects of the same problem. The findings show the need to address the adverse effects of media on sexuality, including how it encourages dangerous behaviors and unrealistic expectations in young people. Media has a significant influence on adolescents’ sexuality. It promotes women objectification, promotes traditional gender stereotypes, and worsens harmful attitudes, norms, and behaviors regarding sexual engagement.

Several gaps in the current literature regarding the role of media in shaping sexuality are evident. The studies do not explore the long-term impacts of media exposure on teenagers. Moreover, the current literature puts more emphasis on females than males. Future studies should evaluate the long-term consequences of media exposure on different demographic groups. For example, they should study African Americans and other minorities’ experiences with media exposure. They should also collect more data on males’ encounters with media exposure.


Brown, J. D. (2020). Mass media influences on sexuality. The Journal of Sex Research, 39(1), 42–50. DOI: https://10.1080/00224490209552118

Coyne, S. M., Ward, L. M., Kroff, S. L., Davis, E. J., Holmgren, H. G., Jensen, A. C., Erickson, S. E., & Essig, L. W. (2019). Contributions of mainstream sexual media exposure to sexual attitudes, perceived peer norms, and sexual behavior: A meta-analysis. Journal of Adolescent Health64(4), 430-436.

De Ridder, S. (2017). Social media and young people’s sexualities: Values, norms, and battlegrounds. Social Media+ Society3(4), 2056305117738992.

Galdi, S., & Guizzo, F. (2021). Media-induced sexual harassment: The routes from sexually objectifying media to sexual harassment. Sex Roles84(11-12), 645-669.

Larpote, H., Rousseau, A., & Eggermont, S. (2020). Effects of media on sexual behaviors. The International Encyclopedia of Media Psychology, 1-12.

Sargayos, M. (2017). How does media exposure influence young girls’ sexuality? International Journal for Intersectional Feminist Studies, 3(2), 34–44.

Ward, L. M., Rosenscruggs, D., & Aguinaldo, E. R. (2022). A scripted sexuality: Media, gendered sexual scripts, and their impact on our lives. Current Directions in Psychological Science31(4), 369-374.

Ward, L. M., & Grower, P. (2020). Media and the development of gender role stereotypes. Annual Review of Developmental Psychology, 2, 177-199

Author: Chris Peiris
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