Exposure of Sexual Content on Television Essay Sample

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This research investigates the sexual content on television and the youth in Malaysian society.

What is Sexual Content?

Firstly, the meaning of ‘sexual content’ needs to be operationalized in order to proceed with the research. Sexual content is thus defined as any depiction of sexual activity, sexually suggestive behaviour, conversations on topics about sexuality or sexual activity (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005). To be considered as sexual behaviour, actions must convey a sense of potential sexual intimacy (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005). For example, a passionate kiss between two characters with an apparent romantic interest would be classified as sexual behaviour, but a kiss on the cheek as a form of greeting between two friends would not be. Usually, sexual behaviour appears in the form of passionate kissing, intimate touching, nudity, and intercourse (Kunkel, et al., 2005). Sexual dialogue involves a range of different types of conversations. It can ultimately be classified into one of six distinct categories: comments about own or others’ sexual actions or interests; conversations about sexual intercourse that have already occurred; conversations hinting or leading towards sex; conversations about sex-related crimes; expert advice on sex, and other (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005).

Implied sexual activity or intercourse is said to occur when a program portrays one or more scenes immediately adjacent (considering both place and time) to an act of sexual intercourse that is clearly inferred by narrative device (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005). For example, a scene involving a couple kissing, groping, or undressing one another as they stumble into a darkened bedroom, followed by the dissolving of the scene; or a couple shown waking up in bed together. All types of sexual content in media may include the above portrayed via song lyrics, internet, online and television advertisements, television programmes, movies, dramas, music videos, posters, magazines, newspapers, novels etc. Media and Effects

Media has become a strong influence in society, especially on the youth of today. People are constantly exposed to a huge number of images of violence, sex, celebrities, products, and so much more on television that it has become the most influential media distribution channel. So, it can be said that it affects the children (6 years to 12 years of age), teenagers (13 years to 17 years of age) and young adults (18 years to 25 years of age) in various ways. These effects of sexual media content on viewers include cognitive, emotional, attitudinal, and behavioural outcomes (Huston, Wartella, and Donnerstein, 1998). In other words, sexual content on television can inflict effects on its audience in terms of their beliefs, behaviour, and emotions.

Media shapes the thoughts and views of its audience in various ways. For example, in a study done by Dr. Michelle M. Garrison, of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute (Anon, 2011), use of media including video games, internet, and television, was examined to determine its impact on the sleep patterns of pre-school aged children. It was found that exposure to violent content, usually from young children’s television programming, had a significant negative impact on sleep patterns, causing nightmares, decreased alertness, and difficulty in falling asleep. Another example would be the Cultivation Theory developed by George Gerbner in 1977 that states that long-term exposure to television causes people to actually believe the social reality portrayed on it (Evra, 1990). Then, there is the Agenda-setting theory developed by Dr. McCombs and Dr. Shaw that says that the news media has the power to influence the salience of topics on the public agenda (Shaw, 2008).

Apart from these, there are numerous other examples that demonstrate the influence of media on society. Therefore, it can be concluded that different forms and types of media affect people’s behaviour, their thought processes, their emotions, and their beliefs.

Media Consumption Patterns and Role of Television in Society

This research also calls for examining the role of the television and the media consumption patterns in society. In regards to media consumption, in a recent INMA Reader’s Loyalty conference in London, the CEO of Evolt’s UK, Jim Chisholm pointed out in an article that different demographic groups show distinctly different consumption patterns in loyalty, frequency, and intensity (Miller, 2011). Although he was talking about print media, this can easily be applied to different types of media, for example the television. Besides that, an article by Reinberg (2010) regarding a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the amount of hours used in media consumption by youths from the age of 8 to 18 has markedly increased over a six year period, from 6 hours and 21 minutes to 7 hours and 38 minutes. The study also showed that overall TV consumption increased by 38 minutes.

Concerning the role of the television, both in society and also as a mass medium, it has been said that the television is a transitory medium, one that doesn’t require door-to-door circulation unlike newspapers. In Mass Communication (Anon., n.d.), it’s said that there are a large amount of illiterate people. Such people may not be able to read a newspaper, but they can watch the television. Anyone with a television receiver can access the information shown on television, making it an ideal medium to transmit messages to a large audience, especially as television also has a wide output, range and reach. In his paper, presented at the 4th Nordic Conference on the Anthropology of Post-Socialism, Vukanovich (2002) states that the television ‘delivers the world’ into the household, bringing both good and bad influences; the latter of course, includes sexual content.

Malaysian Values and Television

Malaysia has always prided itself on its traditions and values. However, with increasing modernism and globalizations, speculations are being made whether these values are slowly becoming westernized. Allegedly, media has a major role to play in this.

In Malaysia, recent claims that Asian values have eroded started when the reality TV program, Akademi Fantasia, first came on air on Malaysia’s government controlled satellite television station, Astro, in 2003. Concerns about this show from conservative parties, religious groups and members of Muslim faith were expressed in a website petition in support of taking reality talent shows off Malaysian TV (The Petition, n.d.). The concerns were based on the fact that these shows were demonstrating values which are against Islamic principles, beliefs and traditional practices such as “hugging between males and females” and “tactless comments from judges” (Associated Press, 2005).

The promotion of confrontation and harshly putting the other down goes well against Malay values as it connotes lack of respect between fellow Malaysians. According to conventional Malay practices, conflicts are meant to be avoided at all times and tolerance and acceptance to be practiced always – anger and dissatisfaction should be suppressed. Therefore, when these reality TV programs allow ‘tactless comments from judges’, conventional Malay values are seen to be violated.

A criticism cited in the abc13.com website states that Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister, Najib Razak, commented that these shows “borrow extensively from Western culture which [he] feared could threaten Eastern values and lead to moral decadence” (Associated Press, 2005). In another report on the same website, the Malaysian elite also commented on religious values. Najib notes that “hugging scenes are not suitable”, therefore contestants are ordered to “act decently” (Associated Press, 2005). In the same report Harussani Zakaria, a cleric with the Malaysian Council of Muftis representing religious groups, criticized the reality TV program Mencari Cinta as “promoting extreme behaviour”. He also commented that “being Asian, we are risking our heritage when we borrow from the Western lifestyle” (Associated Press, 2005). Although the definition of “extreme behaviour” is not elaborated, it indicates behaviours that violate Islam’s religious teaching.

As retrieved from analyses by the New Straits Times groups of newspapers, local historian, Ramlah Adam notes that economic success, entertainment and work-related aspects are attributes that contribute to the demise of traditional (Asian) values in the Malaysian society (Dinin, 2005). She fears the excitement of the entertainment industry, which includes the reality TV phenomenon and influenced by the Western culture, would promote extreme behaviours that are in opposition to traditional values. What worries her most is that the older generation or the parents of these youngsters, who watch the programs, approve such programs and deem them to be suitable for their youngsters. In her opinion, the influence of Western values from the reality TV programs has weakened local values and lead to social and moral decadence.

Local academician Hamdan Adnan agrees with the argument that Malaysian reality TV programs are too eager to imitate Western genres and that they have gone beyond the Asian cultures and values (Badruddin, 2005). According to him, Malaysian reality TV programs, produced and aired on television, are baseless and conflict with local values. To Hamdan, “hugging and crying” when other contestants are eliminated is shameful and should neither be promoted nor permitted. He condemns Malaysian TV stations which he thinks are more concerned with the program ratings than the content of the program. He adds that the quest for profit and commercial values will leave an impact on the younger generation and their outlook on the national and Asian values. Hamdan believes that not all Western programs are deemed negative, and questions why local producers and TV stations are more inclined to imitate the “negative attributes” rather than the “positive Western values”. Although he acknowledges the positive values from Western inspired programs, no specific program or value was mentioned.

International Television Statistics

There is a large amount of data and statistics recorded internationally that highlight the presence of sexual content on media as well as the impact and attitudes it evokes. For instance, Nielsen estimated that 6.6 million kids aged 2-11 were watching the CBS’s little halftime fiasco develop when Justin Timberlake ripped off a piece of Jackson’s bodice, exposing her right breast to the nationwide audience. Another 7.3 million teens aged 12-17 were tuned in at that time as well (Nielsen, 2004). Moreover, this number of 2-11 year olds and 12-17 years old was both estimated to be over 1 million and they comprised more than 20% of the total viewing audience.

Following up, in a 2005 Time Magazine Poll, it was found that 53 percent of respondents think that the FCC should place stricter controls on broadcast-channel shows that depict sexual scenarios. Furthermore, as reported by Kaiser Family Foundation (2004), a majority of parents said they are “very” concerned about the amount of sex (60%) and violence (53%) their children are exposed to on TV, and that a majority (55%) of parents say ratings should be displayed more prominently

Besides, in a study conducted by RAND (2004) of 1792 adolescents aged 12-17, it was proven that watching sex on television influences teens to have sex.

Hence, it is safe to conclude that the broadcast of sexual content on television is more likely to promote sexual activity among adolescents than it is to discourage it.

Malaysian Television Statistics and Censorship

Exclusively Malaysian statistics and data records can also be found in regards to sexual content on television and its audience. For instance, in a research published in the New Straits Times, it was found that 50% of 727 university students are involved in sexual activities, and these huge numbers raised a lot of questions concerning the factors that generate Malaysian adolescents to engage in sexual activities (Mokhtar, 2006).

Furthermore, a shocking outcome was found by Norton from Symantec in 2009 stating that from the top 100 websites accessed by kids, pornographic websites stand on the fourth and fifth ranks. With 14.6 million kids and adolescents taken from different parts of the world that also included Malaysia, this end result has become quite a concern (Norton, 2009).

Surprisingly, as strongly as Malaysian government tries to prevent sexually explicit content from distributing in media, the content still manages to move across, particularly through Malaysian traditional media such as television and films. Also, the development of online television can also be said to play a part in allowing people access to “sexual” programs anytime.

However, Malaysian government is making an effort to strain it using Film Censorship Act 2002 and establish Film Censorship Board of Malaysia, a Malaysian government ministry that vets films, to supervise contents of films; and the government also specifies rating for every film. For instance, until September 2011, a total of 22 films have been censored by Malaysian government due to severe sexual and violent content (FINAS, 2010).

The government has also published some policies in regards with sexually explicit content on media by establishing the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 which stated “Forbidden dissemination of sexual content through Section 211 & 233 and industry coordination under Content Code”. However, they still do not have complete power over the general implications of sexually explicit content on media in Malaysia (Legal Research Board, 1998).


As the above section has shown, it has become essential to understand how content on the television influences people that are considered to be part of the ‘youth demographic’, as arguably, the youth represent the society of the future years to come. Hence, the current situation of sexual content on media in relation to the youth is the sole context of this research as it specifically intends to deal with how teenagers and adolescents are affected by the broadcasting of sex on television.

Seeing the powerful role the television plays in the society, whether that of tutor, entertainer or perhaps an indoctrinator, and the varied yet alarming statistics from previously collected data make it necessary to research further to find out exactly the extent, i.e. the amount as well as the frequency, to which the youth is exposed to instances of sex screened on the television today and the youth’s attitude towards it all.

Research Problem

As discussed in the above sections, it is quite apparent that the amount of sexual content on television is becoming more and more prevalent with each passing year, slowly on its way to become a trend on television, as media already being a strong influence uses this as a way to gain more attention and popularity from their viewers. Media portrayals can also play an important role in educating youths about sexuality but at the same have the potential to change the viewer’s attitudes and knowledge.

Therefore, in light of all the factors discussed in the previous sections, this research attempts to investigate the following research questions –

RQ1: To what extent is the youth population exposed to sexual content shown on television today in Malaysia?

RQ2: How does sexual content on television affect the youth of Malaysian Society in terms of beliefs, behaviour, and emotions?

RQ3: What is the attitude and level of acceptance among the youth in Malaysian Society towards the amount of sexual content shown on television today?


Various data from past studies and analyses have shown a significant increase in the amount of sexual content on television over the years. For example, it was reported by the Parents Television Council that sexual content had appeared in 64% of all American television programs in a sample of programming from the 2001-2002 TV seasons. Moreover, those programs with sexually related material had an average of 4.4 scenes per hour. However, the level of exposure to such content that the Malaysian youth is subjected to, is not yet entirely known. Therefore, the objective of this study is to find out the extent (amount and frequency) of the Malaysian youth’s exposure to sexual content on television.

Furthermore, as stated in the previous sections, people spend a lot of their time watching television and thus are also prone to being subjected to greater influence by content aired on television than any other media; and sexual content on television has thus become a pressing issue for concern. Moreover, young people are considered the most vulnerable target for coming under the influence of “sexual media” as opposed to the older generation. For example, in a study conducted by RAND (2004), it was found that youths who were exposed to more sexual content were more likely to initiate intercourse. Therefore, the main objective of this research is to investigate the positive or negative effects that sexual content broadcasted on television can have on the youth in Malaysian society, be it in terms of their beliefs, emotions or behaviors.

Finally, it is also important to discover what the youth actually thinks about this sexual content and the amount it is broadcasted in on the television. Finding this out could help the government of Malaysia, as well as the parents of the youths, in gauging their current mindset regarding sexual media, and if unfavorable, perhaps try to change it and steer them in a better direction. Therefore, the research also intends to examine the youths’ level of acceptance towards sexual content on television and their general views on it.

Significance of the Study

The associations or people that may be interested in this research and its potential results would be scholars, educators, parents, the government, and the television industry.

This research can be said to interest scholars and educators as the study helps to fully understand the relationship between broadcast of sexual content on television in relation with youth. Looking at all the past researches conducted around similar topics dealing with ‘sexual media’ and adolescents, fellow mass media researchers may be interested in the potential findings about the effects that sexual content on television have on Malaysian youth, and perhaps wish to delve deeper into the topic. Lecturers and teachers may also be interested to know about these effects since they may be studying a similar topic, or that the universities and schools may be willing to spread awareness am on such issues among its students.

Then, the potential results also have significance to parents of youths who may wish to know the effects sexual content have on their children, the level of acceptance that they have towards ‘sexual media’ as well as their level of exposure to such content. So, they can perhaps take some action like discussing their views and opinions on sex and sexual behaviours, and watching television along with their children, thus reducing their exposure to and the negative effects of sexual content.

Besides that, results about the youth’s acceptance levels of and exposure levels to sexual content may also interest the government of Malaysia. This is due to the fact that this research is entirely restricted to television and youth in Malaysian society, and the government might be concerned with what the outcome of the study is – keeping in mind the welfare of the future of the nation which is in the youth’s hands. Moreover, it would also want to protect its traditional and cultural values and identity, and thus might want to look into issues such as censorship on television, or at least lend a hand in reducing the amount of sexual content in entertainment programming.

Finally, the results of the research may also be useful to various television industries, especially the production houses, so that they can steer themselves in a better direction – moving away from the trend of sexual content being aired on television.

Literature Review

As is apparent, the display of sexually explicit content on television has always been a matter of much concern among mass media researchers, and this concern has only increased year by year. A large portion of research related to sexual content on television has been devoted to examining the increasing amount of such content on prime time television, commercials, and other programs, as well as on the effects that ‘sexual media’ can inflict upon the knowledge, behaviour, and perception of its audience, particularly the younger audience.

For instance, there have been many researches in the past that have investigated the consumption of sexual content on media and its correlation with adolescent sexual behaviour, two of which are mentioned in this section.

One of such researches is a longitudinal survey conducted by Rebecca L. Collins, Marc N. Elliott, Sandra H. Berry, David E. Kanouse, Dale Kunkel, Sarah B. Hunter and Angela Miu (Collins, et al., 2004) that examined whether watching sex on television predicts adolescent initiation of sexual behaviour. 1762 adolescents from 12-17 years of age, belonging to different nationalities such as Americans (77%), African-Americans (13%), Hispanic (7%), and Asians (4%), both males and females, were surveyed over telephone about their television viewing habits, sexual knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour, and then re-interviewed a year later.

This research, based on its results, concluded that watching television can predict and cause hastening of adolescent sexual initiation. Similarly, another research – an in-home longitudinal survey – conducted by Jane D. Brown, Kelly Ladin L’Engle, Carol J. Pardun, Guang Guo, Kristin Kenneavy, and Christine Jackson (Brown, et al., 2005) also produced similar results. It assessed whether exposure to sexual content in four mass media – television, movies, music, and magazine – used by early adolescents predicts sexual behaviour in their middle adolescence. The respondents were 1017 black and white adolescents from 14 middle schools in Northern Carolina, and were all interviewed at baseline at the age of 12 or 14 years, and then again after a period of two years, to construct a new measure of each teen’s sexual media diet (SMD) by weighting the frequency of use of the four media by the frequency of sexual content in each television show, movie, music album, and magazine used by them regularly.

The results answered the research question of ‘whether early adolescents with heavier sexual media diet are more likely than those with lighter SMD to have more advanced pre-coital and coital behaviour by middle adolescence’ in affirmative in the case of white adolescents; however black teens on the other hand appeared more influenced by perceptions of their parents’ expectations and their friends’ sexual behaviour than by what they observed in media.

Then, researches have also been conducted on assessing correlations between viewing of sexual content on television and sexual perceptions and attitudes among youth, and two such researches are highlighted in this section.

One such survey research was conducted solely among 113 female students aged 18-24 years studying in a medium-sized Midwestern public university, by Sarah Lund and Lindsey Blaedon (Lund and Blaedon, 2003) to study the role of television in regards to sexual attitudes and perceptions.

The results supported one of the hypotheses that those participants exposed to sexually explicit videos before responding to sexual scenarios rated the scenarios as less sexual than those not exposed to the videos. However, no significant correlations were found between amounts of television watched and sexual opinions, and neither between variables measuring television habits and sexual and appropriateness ratings.

Therefore, the primary hypothesis of this study that television habits are significantly related to sexual attitudes and perceptions was not supported. In contrast, another research on a similar topic carried out by L. Monique Ward and Kimberly Friedman (Ward and Friedman, 2006) three years later produced somewhat contradicting results to Lund and Blaedon’s study (2003).

In this research, an experimental and survey research was performed on 244 students aged 14-18 years attending a college-oriented suburban high school in Long Island, New York. Three hypotheses were tested– whether students exposed to clips that show sex as a form of recreation, flaunt women as sex objects, or men as sex driven, would offer a stronger support of corresponding stereotypes about sexual or gender roles than students exposed to content that is not sexual; whether the levels of exposure of students, their motives of viewing, and identification of characters relates to their sexual attitudes; and whether several aspects of media use are associated with adolescents’ level of sexual experience.

The support for first hypothesis was produced for only one of the three sexual stereotypes – students who had viewed women depicted as sex objects offered stronger support for this notion. The second and the third hypotheses were supported by the results completely as television viewing in its various forms was found to be significantly correlated with sexual attitudes of students, and the greater the students were exposed to sexually oriented genres, such as music videos and talks shows, the greater they closely identified with famous characters and the bigger were their levels of dating and sexual experience.

Furthermore, researches have also been carried out about evaluating adolescents’ use of media as a source of information, two of which are discussed below.

One such research is the content analysis study by Enid Gruber and Joel W Grube (Gruber and Grube, 2000) which reviewed the scientific literature on adolescents and sex in the media – using searches of MEDLINE – and the psychological and media literature, using Kaiser Family Foundation, the Centre for Media Education, and other professional societies and organizations as some of their sources.

The study derived that adolescent sexuality is associated with media use, and that adolescents are exposed to a large number of sexual images and messages on television that are almost universally presented in a positive light, with little discussion on potential risks and adverse consequences. Most importantly, it was concluded that adolescents use the media as a source of information about sex, drugs, AIDS, and violence, as well as to learn how to behave in relationships.

Then, a questionnaire-based cross-sectional study investigating a similar topic was conducted by Chaohua Lou, Yan Cheng, Ersheng Gao, Xiayun Zuo, Mark R. Emerson, Laurie S. Zabin from 2006-2007 (Lou, et al., 2007). 17,016 Asian adolescents and young adults, aged 15-24 years, out of which 16,554 were unmarried, completed face-to-face interviews as well as computer-assisted self-based interviews to fulfil the objective of the research which was to explore the associations between exposure to sexual content in the media and adolescents’ sex-related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours.

The study concluded from the results that access to and use of mass media and the messages it presents are influential factors on sex-related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours of unmarried Asian young adults, the results being slightly similar to what was determined in the content analysis by Gruber and Grube (2000).

Research Methodology

This research would be carried out on the basis of the following methodology.

Location and Population

For the purpose of this research, the location from where the respondents will be selected is restricted to Malaysian cities, and specifically those belonging to households in possession of at least one television set, since respondents falling under this category can fulfil the research objectives most aptly.

This research intends to investigate the sexual content on television and its impact on the youth in Malaysian society, thus the population for this research is the demographic group of teenagers and adolescents ranging from the ages of 14 to 22 years, inclusive of both males and females. The reason for choosing this particular age group is quite apparent – teenagers and adolescents are considered to have the highest rates of exposure to sexual content on the media, especially on television, and are also considered to have more vulnerable minds as compared to adults belonging to higher age groups.

Sample and Sampling Method

It is not possible to examine an entire population due to time and resource constraints, therefore, a sample of respondents is chosen from the entire population. A sample is the subset of the population that represents the entire population. This research chooses a sample of 100 males and 100 females respectively from the population of adolescents aged 14-22 years of age, studying in high schools and colleges, living in cities, and owning one or more television sets at home. This study is not restricted to one gender, thus samples of both genders are chosen. Also, only those that live in cities, own television sets, and are pursuing an education are chosen since they tend to have the highest exposure to ‘sexual media’. Moreover, the samples cannot be generalized to a very large population as this is treated as an exploratory study.

In this research, nonprobability samples will be used, since using them allows an easier investigation of the variable relationships between sexual content and its effects on Malaysian youth. This also enables the collection of exploratory data to design questionnaires or as a measurement instrument for a bigger research. Furthermore, the available/convenience type of nonprobability sample is chosen, since subjects are readily accessible, as for this research, 100 students (50 males and 50 females) will be chosen from a high school, and 100 students (50 males and 50 females) will be chosen from a college in the city. It will be ensured that all students studying in the chosen high school and college have one or more television sets at home. Then, their e-mail ids will be obtained from the school and college student databases respectively. The focus being teenagers and adolescents, enough content for the research can be gathered using this sample itself.

Data Collection Method and Research Instrument
The data collection method of this study is Survey Questionnaire. Surveys will be conducted using the online survey method as the topic of ‘sexual media’ is quite sensitive and may cause respondents to be uncomfortable if asked questions in direct conversation. The questionnaires will be distributed via e-mail to the students.

The research instrument to be used in the research is the survey questionnaire. The respondents are asked questions that can ultimately lead to finding out the answers to the three research questions. The demographics of the respondents are also inquired in the end, though their identities will be kept anonymous.

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