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Media has a lot of potential in terms of influencing social behaviors due to its high viewership. This property of mass communication can be used to enhance the social responsibility and encourage a correct sexual attitude among adults, while keeping them way from early pregnancies and AIDS. Even though television and other means of public opinion communication can gear positive changes, it often uses the inappropriate content and wrongful messages to boost its shows ratings. The influence of sexual content distributed through mass media can be either positive encouraging the audience to reevaluate its behavior or negative causing damages to social habits of people.
Keller and Brown (2002) suggest that mass media can be a platform for promoting a sexual responsibility. Due to its high viewership, television can be an appropriate solution for the sexual education. As comparing to other countries, the US media has not yet exhausted the opportunities available to teach the younger generation about sex-related matters. Only 25% of adults learned about STDs from media and publications. This number is thrice more in the European countries (Brown, Steele & Walsh-Childers, 2001, as cited in Keller & Brown, 2002, p.67).
On this occasion, story lines of some TV series in India, Africa and Latin America covered some HIV prevention and family planning topics, which raised the awareness about sexuality. Health experts distinguish several approaches, while working with media on the sex-related education. Analysts acknowledge that even though each of the strategies is not perfect alone, the aggregated positive impact is beyond doubt.
There are cases in some American cities, where a safe sex message conveyed through media lowered the numbers of sexually active teenagers and increased the occurrence of protected sex with random partners (Alstead et al., 1999, as cited in Keller & Brown, 2002, p.67). "Enter-educate", "edu-tainment" and "prosocial entertainment" are created to share knowledge, raise awareness and change the attitude toward educative matters and tutor people on family planning issues (Singhal & Rogers, 1999, as cited Keller & Brown, 2002, p.67).
Los and Chamard (1997) argue whether sexual assault is a subject to sales boost or a real public education. In 1980s, crime news was most viewed on TV, but sexual assault was only a part of the content with no systematic study of the issue. Thus, highlighting rape on the news was only an instrument to attract the viewer’s attention and increase the programs’ popularity (Los & Chamard, 1997, p.294).
Media exploited the rape theme to be able to compete in a “dog-eat-dog” news world and get a reputation of a socially responsible entity, when actually it was not. Such researchers as Surrete, Walby, Hay, Soothil and others have conducted studies, which confirmed that sensation was basically the main motivation of TV channels (as cited Los & Chamard, 1997, p.295).
Stern and Handel (2001) examine a historical development of sexuality online and its presentation with the introduction of new technologies. The Internet might trigger the online addiction or social isolation of users. In addition, the Internet has a direct impact on higher numbers of child sexual abuse and pornography (Norland & Bartholet, 2001,as cited in Stern & Handel, 2001, p.283).
Haines adds that there is an opinion that the pornographic content is a reason for people committing sexual crimes (as cited in Stern & Handel, 2001, p.283). However, this theory is not generally accepted. Female adults tend to adopt a flirtatious behavior of screen characters after watching a movie, while male adults learn how to kiss and make love from films (Forman, 1933, as cited in Stern & Handel, 2001, p.283).
Taylor (2005) analyzes the exposure of adults to the sexual content and its aftermath. He concludes that even though earlier findings on this matter are mixed, there is more experimental proofs that the sexual content on television has an impact on the viewer’s behavior. Bryant and Rockwell state that adults, who viewed sexual programs showed a greater tolerance toward the adultery and sexual indecency than those, who watched nonsexual television (as cited in Taylor, 2005, p.130).
According to Grison and Williams, teens that were exposed to sexual music clips appeared to be more lenient to sex before marriage than those, who did not watch any videos (as cited in Taylor, 2005, p.131). The author insists that media can shape the learning character of messages on television.
Media could be a great tutor and guide, when it comes to a family planning and HIV preventive measures. In Tanzania, “media lessons” with the help of popular radio show made people be aware of family the planning method as well as flourished AIDS prevention practice, increased condom adoption and lowered number of people with HIV. The amount of people, who agreed they will stop an active sexual life or use occasional partners, has increased from 21% to 31% in the two-year period, when the show was being aired. Once, the TV program was no longer followed, the same index was 11% down (Rogers et al., 1999, as cited in Keller and Brown, 2002, p.68).
The number of similar educative media programs is quite low in the US. However, there is an exception. First, "Campaign for Our Children" (Baltimore) covered television, radio and outdoor advertising and led to a decreasing number of pregnancies among teenagers. Second, inspired by the Zairian promotional initiative, the ACTION social campaign in the US reduced the numbers of teens having sex and increased the usage of condoms among those, who have an active sex life. The idea of condom vending machines, AIDS-related talk shows and PSAs belonged to Population Services Internation, also known as PSI. The advertising firm located TV screens showing educative commercials promoting sex with condoms, which teenagers could get through vending machines. In Uganda, Youth Communication Campaign changed the perception of intimacy among sexually active adults (Katende et al., 2000, as cited in Keller & Brown, 2001, p.68). Music can be another mean to influence the behavior of a large audience. For instance, educative music videos by a pop star in Nigeria boosted the number of women taking modern contraceptives (Bankole et al., 1999, as cited in Keller & Brown, 2001, p.68).
By way of contrast, media can simplify news to comply with industry standards. This encourages the process of social reality "fictionalization", where characters are streamlined models and real life situations are nothing, but symbols. Media producers heavily relly on criminal justice associates to obtain news for their programs.
Often the content is moderated in order to meet the criteria of "newsworthiness". Such a "selective" approach to highlighting crimes, such as rape and sexual abuse, keeps the viewer’s attention away from the real problem (Ericson et al., 1987, as cited in Los & Chamard, 1997, p.296). Another reason why media, namely the Internet, can be destructive is the fact that the more people watch television, the less social they become (Postman, 1992; Zuboff, 1988, as cited in Stern & Handel, 2001, p.287). In such a way, the Internet users lose their "variety" as human beings and become physically isolated. Less social people tend to rent R-rated movies and watch it alone at home. This behavior can further develop in a sexual addiction on the web (Stern & Handel, 2001, p.288). Nonetheless, a positive influence of the Internet cannot be denied. In particular, people, who have troubles in expressing their sexual orientation and habits openly, can address this kind of issues online with peers (McKenna & Bargh, 1998, as cited in Stern & Handel, 2001, p.288). The Internet still lacks a control as compared to other sources of media, since it offers more sexual content due to it is wide presence. Some sexual content is free of charge or not very costly, which makes it affordable to a wider audience (Mehta & Plaza, 1997, as cited in Stern & Handel, 2001, p.289). Taylor (2005) presumed that people, who watch programs with sexually appropriate messages, will maintain permissive regard and manners than those, who do not view such content (p.132). However, the level of content “absorption” and belief in information offered by media solely depends on how realistic users perceive television. Thus, it is not the mass media’s entire responsibility for how viewers are influenced, but a cognitive peculiarity of each individual, as well.
In general, sexual content in the media can be either inspirational or destructive. Mass media can be used as an arena for the sexual education among adults, since it plays a pivotal role in formulating opinions and shaping behaviors across different age groups. The presence of the socially responsible content during airtime as a part of the commercial content is less obvious than a public advertisement due to its unostentatious character. Hence, it has a higher educative impact on users, who tend to be less resistant to knowledge in these circumstances (Keller & Brown, 2001, p.69). The study results proved that the social advertisement is more effective during its repetition on TV, while its affection decreases, once it is off the screen (Brodie et al., 2001, as cited in Keller & Brown, 2001, p.69). Another substantial detail of media influence and how reliable the offered information is should be critically viewed. As an example, sexual abuse was acknowledged to be a dual interaction during the preceding campaign for the sexual assault legislation. Mass media failed to show the true nature of this horrible issue, assigning it the attribute of "personal and sexual interaction" with no realistic facts as its base (Los & Chamard, 1997, p.322). A special attention should be paid to the online content, which is widely available due to its relatively cheap price or no charge at all. In some cases, the “overdose” of cyber interaction can make people become more solitary and lose their unique qualities as human beings.