Now more than ever, most of us spend a lot of time online, and this point can even affect our mental health. For eons now, psychologists have researched and studied the impact of sexual content on people and how this may affect them intentionally and unintentionally. This can even impact one’s sexual attitudes and behavior and can even contribute to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, and even depression.
With the advent of the internet, people are more likely to be affected by sexual media, and this is why we need to know how it affects our mental health. So, without further ado, let’s dive into this blog and learn more about the intersectionality between sexual media and our mental health.
What is sexual media?
Sexual media in mainstream media for all ages can be visual or verbal references to courtship, sexual relationships, or even acts. It encompasses a plethora of things and is a large category that can range from images on TV and in movies that are sexy but not explicit to pornography that portrays sexual acts. According to one study, it is estimated that 81% of all major motion pictures and 82% of mainstream TV shows contain some level of sexual content.
The increased inaccessibility of the internet has also greatly expanded the availability, with thousands of people logging in and viewing sexually explicit content every second. It also conveys messages about sex, and this may not be accurate in real life. It is important to note that sexual content in mainstream media tends to feature a lot of risk-free casual sex and adheres to the traditional gender role of the binary gender for men and women.
How does it impact us?
Due to the prevalence of sexual content on mainstream TV, anyone who watches movies or TV today anyone will almost inevitably consume some form of sexual content.
1. Sexual behavior at an early age
Exposure to sexual content tends to be associated with permissive sexual attitudes, sexual initiation, and even risky sexual behavior, especially among adolescents. This is a telltale sign that media, in general, can have an impact on people’s sexual behaviors and attitudes. According to a study, an important finding has found that early sexual experimentation may lead to poor mental health.
The APA or the American Psychological Association has conducted a study on this by analyzing the sexualization of women in all forms of media. These forms of media included TV, magazines, the internet, adverts, video games, movies, and music lyrics. They found that young women are negatively impacted by the depiction of the sexualization of women.
2. Physical dissatisfaction and low self-esteem
Research suggests that exposure to these representations decreases body confidence and well-being, leads to self-image problems and low self-esteem, and is linked to mental health problems such as eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Another example is a study of Australian women over the age of 60 who found that exposure to sexualized images in newspapers, magazines, and television led to feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, and dissatisfaction with their bodies. In addition, sexualized images that convey negative messages about older women contribute to participants’ feelings of exclusion or invisibility.
3. Negative Body Image
A review of several studies found that more frequent exposure to pornography by heterosexual adult men and women was associated with negative body image. Another study found that people who consume sexually explicit media are more likely to report more depressive symptoms, lower quality of life, and more days of poor mental health.
Similarly, another study found that gay and bisexual men who viewed more pornography had more negative attitudes toward their bodies and exhibited symptoms of anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that Taiwanese children who consume pornography as young as eight years old are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors between the ages of 18 and 25, including earlier sexual initiation, unprotected sex, and multiple partners.
How to lessen its impacts
Not all studies have found that exposure to sexual media has an impact on those who consume it, but enough studies have shown adverse effects that it is helpful to know methods to mitigate those effects.
1. Raising children’s awareness of unrealistic or harmful media
Some people seem to be naturally less affected by sexual media because of personality factors, cognitive style, or family environment. For example, parents who actively watch television with their children, alerting them to program segments that may be over-the-top, unrealistic, or harmful, teach children to think more critically about the messages behind the media they consume, which appears to mitigate the effects of sexual media.
2. Building strong self-esteem
In addition, the negative impact of sexualized images on older women is minimized by several factors, including having a solid sense of self-worth that is not based on appearance, feeling valued by family and community, ignoring media content, and realizing that sexualized images in the media are not realistic. For girls and women, researchers have even suggested that fostering a feminist identity may serve a protective function against sexual media by challenging the traditional roles of men and women often described in these media.
3. The media education programs
Ultimately, media education programs may be the most effective way to reduce the negative effects of sexual media. Media education programs in schools teach children and adolescents to notice and question the sexual images and depictions they are exposed to in all types of media.
In addition, teaching adults media literacy skills in childhood enables them to make better choices about the media they consume, be more critical of sexual messages they are exposed to, and pass these skills on to their children.
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