Early teen sex, media not linked

Aug. 20, 2010 at 1:00 AM
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PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- A Philadelphia psychologist is challenging previous research that linked exposure to sex in the media and the early onset of sexual activity among teens.

Laurence Steinberg of Temple University reanalyzed data from a 2006 study that said adolescents ages 12-14, exposed to a lot of sexualized movies, television, music and magazines, were more likely to have sex by age 16.

Steinberg says the original study did not fully factor in that adolescents who are already interested in sex will choose to consume more sexualized media -- instead of media consumption being responsible for interest in sexual activity.

Steinberg says in his re-evaluation he used a more statistically conservative approach, which controlled for adolescents' propensity to be exposed to sexualized media, by factoring in data such as school performance, religiousness, parental relationships and perceptions of friends' attitudes about sex.

The study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, finds that by controlling for these additional variables, the link between exposure to sexualized media and the earlier onset of sexual activity disappears.

Steinberg uses a child's religiousness can be a third variable.

"If a child reports being very religious, he or she will be less likely to have sex at a younger age, but will also be less likely to consume sexualized media," Steinberg says in a statement. "It may look like media exposure leads to sexual activity, but the relation between the two is artificial."

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