The Sexual Content of Movies: What is the Effect?
by Brittany Jackson
    “If I had a d*** would you suck it?” Shelia asked her husband, during an argument over the reasons she is not ready to perform oral sex. Derrick, our our of frustration, then says to his wife “Yes, I would suck it (d***) wearing a Viking hat and a little league chest protector."  Everyday adolescences view movies with sexually explicit scenes, such as the one above from The Brothers.  In today’s society many believe that media strongly influences American adolescents’ sexual attitudes, values, and beliefs and they worry about the possible negative effects.
     According to the committee on communications, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), movies often present consequence free sexuality and a combination of sex and violence. The American Academy of Pediatrics is now beginning to recommend that pediatricians promote discussion between adolescents and their families about the effect of the media and sexual behavior. The AAP is now also suggesting that the broadcast industry follow guidelines for responsible sexual content in movies, as well as in other forms of media (Sexuality).   
   The AAP study relates, though the amount of sexual content portrayed in the media is up, the age at which American adolescents first experience sexual intercourse is declining. According to a study done by the AAP, approximately half of all American females and two-thirds of all males have experienced sexual intercourse by age seventeen. The AAP have found a hand full of studies that deal with the relationship between sexual content in the media and adolescents’ behavior. In these studies the AAP found teenagers to be influenced because in the media, sex is often associated with humor, excitement, danger, or violence. Also, the study showed that in movies abstinence among teenagers is almost never portrayed in a positive manner. According to the AAP study content analysis, “American teenagers will view nearly fourteen-hundred sexual references, innuendos, and jokes per year, yet only one hundred sixty-five of the references will deal with such topics as birth control, self-control, abstinence, or STD (sexually transmitted disease)” (Sexuality).
    More recent research done by the AAP shows that “not all children and adolescents interpret media portrayals of sex in the same way, nor are they equally susceptible to sexual suggestiveness. Adolescents’ sexual self-perception may influence their interpretation as well. Therefore a clearly defined value system and discussion of responsible sexual decision-making within the family, in addition to active, critical viewing skills are essential complements to make accurate, pro-heal sexual messages”(Sexuality).
         An AAP article composed by Victor Strasburger and Edward Donnerstein, has found, “There are only five studies demonstrating any connection between media with high sexual content and changes in teenagers’ sexual attitudes and behavior” (qdt.Strasburger).  A study done with three-hundred ninety-one junior high students showed that those who viewed sexual content were more likely to have begun having sexual intercourse in the preceding year. Data from the National Surveys of Children suggest that teens who watch television apart from their families are three to six times more sexually active than those who view television with their families (Strasburger).
        Studies done by researchers Kids Risk Project at Harvard School of Public Health suggest that children are exposed to more movies with sexual content because of the ratings on films. They have found that movies with the ratings PG (parental guidance), PG-13 (parental guidance suggested for children under thirteen), and R (restricted rated film) now have increasing amounts of sexual content. With such discrepancy in film ratings and their content, these studies have found that oftentimes, parents are unaware of the content of the movies their children are viewing.
    The Harvard study states that “Parents and physicians should be aware that movies with the same rating can differ significantly in the amount and types of potentially objective content. Age based ratings alone do not provide good information about the depiction of violence, sex, profanity and other content, and the criteria for rating movies became less stringent over the last decade”(Harvard). Kimberly Thompson, the associate professor who directs the Kids Risk Project stated that, “It’s time for a significant research effort to explore the development and creation of a universal rating system”(qtd. Harvard). The study also relates that “Parents must recognize their responsibility in choosing appropriate films with and for their children, and in discussing the messages in films with children to mediate any potential adverse effects and reinforce any potential beneficial effects”(Harvard) . Stayer, another person involved in the Harvard study feels that that the current rating system is flawed because it is run by an industry board under commercial pressure to pack as much into movies as possible, even if the film is not appropriate for the age group it has been rated for (Harvard).
     Another more recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, has suggested that those who are involved in rating film have become more lax in their standards. According to Mary Brown, a parent interviewed during the study, “Hollywood is taking more liberties and we’re (we as a society) letting them. Nobody is getting outraged” (qtd. Holahan).  Another parent, Beth White, states that “Generally I consider the ratings (of film) pretty appropriate, and if I do not think it is appropriate, he (her son) won’t see it” (qtd. Holahan). Some who participated in the study suggest that that those in the movie industry use film ratings to attract a certain audience. For example most ten and eleven year-olds find it un-cool to go out to view a G or PG movie with their friends. In order to accommodate the pre-teens and teenagers, since they are the most frequent movie goers, film producers will spice up the film, so that it will receive a PG-13 rating.
    According to studies done by the Motion Picture Association of America, parents are outraged by the way the films of today are rated when they hit the market. Phuong Yoktis, director of public affairs for Motion Picture Association of America said that, “We (the board of movie critics) do not have specific standards” (qtd. Andersen). He states that ratings are handed to an eleven member board of parents, and “How they come up with the ratings is purely subjective” (qtd. Andersen).  MPAA Chairperson Jack Valenti recently stated that, “Movie ratings are meant for parents, no one else” (Andersen).  Many parents believe the movie rating scale sets double standards. For example, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers has a great deal of sex and nudity, including the full-frontal variety, went in theaters with a rating of NC-17 ( No children under age seventeen are admitted) while the extremely violent Passion of the Christ was released with an R rating. Yokitis denies that the MPAA has a double standard regarding sex and violence. “The ratings board,” she says, “regard both in tandem. It’s not that one is worse than the other” (Andersen).
    To try and help society cope and deal with the controversial effects of sexual content and violence in movies RCA is in the process of marketing the Clearplay DVD player. The product will be released in local K-Marts and Wal-Marts. The controversial program contained on the DVD player will allow scenes in movies that are found sexually explicit and violent to be automatically skipped. RCA decided to manufacture the DVD player after Janet Jackson’s indecent exposure at the Super Bowl this past January. Though many parents are for the DVD player because it would allow them to watch a violent or sexually explicit movie with children without any worries, many film producers are against it and are filing lawsuits.
    Some of the major producers filing lawsuits include Steven Soderbergh, John Landis and Steven Spielberg. Those who are filing lawsuits against the creators of clearplay media player argue that those who are editing their work are not competent and could be changing the whole content and intent of the film. Though the creators of clearplay have tried to assure filmmakers that the DVD player will not filter movies if it will ruin its content, the producers are still adamant about their lawsuits. When K-Mart and Wal-Mart, the local retailers who will be marketing the product were contacted, Wal-Mart had no immediate comment, and a K-Mart representative could not be reached. The use and marketing of this product is still up in debate and is highly controversial.
         Due to the artist value of certain films, such as Passion of the Christ, it will not be able to be edited by the controversial clearplay DVD player. Some feel the cuts done by the DVD player
are pointless. According to an article written by Claudia Puig, “The cuts are clunky, eliminating portions of sentences and leaving only dead air, or speeding over objectionable items so they emerge almost as ‘blips’ The awkward presentation could backfire as a way to sanitize mass entertainment and make it palatable for family audiences” (Puig). But in other films such as the Patriot the DVD player could spare the viewers the image of cannonballs taking off heads. It all just depends on what the viewer wants in viewing.
    Though the sexual and violent content in movies is very controversial, it is up to the individual determine how the media will influence them or their children. One must determine if they are the type that can view sexual content and have little to no effect. If they are not, one must either filter the content or watch it knowing the possible negative effects.

Works Cited

Andersen, Soren. “In MPAA Rating Routine, Parents Call Shots; System Started in 1968
Has Outside Critics, but Serves Only Parents.” The News Tribune 23 May 2004: E05.  LexisNexis. Dacus Library, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC.  24 October 2004.

“Children and Adolescence, and the Media: Issues and Solutions.” Pediatrics 103.1
(1999). InfoTrac.  Dacus Library, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC.  24
October 2004.

“Harvard Study.” The Associated Press State and Local Wire 14 July 2004. LexisNexis. Dacus Library, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC. 24 October 2004. 

Holahan, Jane. “Movie Ratings: Thumbs Down.” Lancaster New Era 19 July 2004: A1. LexisNexis. Dacus Library, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC. 24 October 2004.

Puig, Claudia. “Sanitized Movies May Please Some.” USA Today 6 May 2004: 3D .    LexisNexis 6 May 2004: Dacus Library, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC. 24 October 2004.

“Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media.” Pediatrics 95.2 (1995). Infotrac. Dacus Library, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC.  24 October 2004.