The Dual Role of Media Internalization in Adolescent Sexual Behavior
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Sexualizing media content is prevalent in various media types. Sexualizing media messages and portrayals emphasize unattainable body and appearance ideals as the primary components of sexual desirability. The internalization of these ideals is positively related to self-objectification and sexual body consciousness. In turn, self-objectification and sexual body consciousness affect adolescents’ sexual behavior, albeit in opposing directions. While objectifying self-perceptions are linked to higher levels of sexual behavior, body consciousness during physical intimacy is linked to lower levels of sexual behavior. Based on this knowledge, the present three-wave panel study of 824 Belgian, predominant heterosexual adolescents (M age = 15.33; SD = 1.45) proposes a dual-pathway model that investigates two different pathways through which the internalization of media ideals may impact adolescents’ sexual behavior. An inhibitory pathway links media internalization to lower levels of sexual behavior through sexual body consciousness, and a supportive pathway links media internalization to higher levels of sexual behavior through self-objectification. Structural equation analyses supported the proposed dual-pathway, showing that the impact of media internalization on adolescents’ sexual behavior proceeds through an inhibitory pathway and a supportive pathway. Regarding the supportive pathway, media internalization (W1) positively predicted sexual behavior (W3), through valuing appearance over competence (W2). Regarding the inhibitory pathway, media internalization (W1) positively predicted body surveillance, which, in turn, positively predicted sexual body consciousness (all W2). Sexual body consciousness (W2) is negatively related to sexual behavior (W3). From a sexual developmental perspective, these findings emphasize the importance of guiding adolescents in interpreting and processing sexualizing media messages.
KeywordsMedia internalization Self-objectification Sexual body consciousness Sexual behavior Sexualizing media
This study was funded by a grant from the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) (Grant No. 1145212N) granted to the last author.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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