Relationships Between Adolescent Sexual Outcomes and Exposure to Sex in Media

Robustness to Propensity-Based Analysis

Published In: Developmental Psychology, v. 47, no. 2, Mar. 2011, p. 585-591

Posted on RAND.org on February 28, 2011

by Rebecca L. Collins, Steven C. Martino, Marc N. Elliott, Angela Miu

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Adolescent sexual health is a substantial problem in the United States, and two recent studies have linked adolescent sexual behavior and/or outcomes to youths' exposure to sex in the media. Both studies had longitudinal survey designs and used covariate-adjusted regression analysis. Steinberg and Monahan (2011) reanalyzed data from one of these studies (Brown et al., 2006) using a propensity score approach, arguing that this method better addresses the possibility of unobserved confounders. On the basis of their reanalysis, which found no relationship between media exposure and sexual behavior, Steinberg and Monahan concluded that "Adolescents' Exposure to Sexy Media Does Not Hasten the Initiation of Sexual Intercourse" (p. 562). We subjected data from the second study (Chandra et al., 2008; Collins et al., 2004) to reanalysis using a propensity-score approach. We find only modest reductions in two of the three previously documented associations and no reduction in the third. On the basis of these findings, we conclude that there is an association between exposure to sex in the media and adolescent sexual outcomes. Although the evidence does not prove causality, it is sufficient to advise caution among parents, develop interventions for youths, and work with media producers and distributors to reduce youth exposure to sexual content.

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