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Portrayals of Sex and Sexuality in Gay- and Lesbian-Oriented Media: A Quantitative Content Analysis


Media serve as vital sources of sexual information for adolescents exploring their sexual identities. Research suggests that mainstream media sanitize depictions of lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) individuals, preventing LGB characters from engaging in realistic sexual talk or sexual behaviors. Beyond mainstream media, however, a niche media industry designed, produced, and marketed specifically for gay and lesbian audiences has become increasingly accessible. Despite the growing visibility of gay- and lesbian-oriented (GLO) media, no empirical research has quantified the depiction of sex and sexuality in this media genre. The current study reports the results of a quantitative content analysis of sexual instances in GLO television, film, and music popular with LGB youth. Results indicate that LGB depictions occur with greater frequency than heterosexual depictions in GLO media, most LGB depictions are validating in nature, and gay males are depicted significantly more than lesbian women or bisexual individuals. The diversity of LGB relationships, sexual interests, and sexual behaviors are also acknowledged in GLO media, suggesting that LGB individuals are portrayed in realistic sexual situations rarely portrayed in mainstream media. Additionally, comparisons between GLO media and mainstream media suggest that GLO media depict LGB sexualities more frequently and in more validating contexts than mainstream media. Possible effects of exposure to GLO media among youth are discussed in terms of the social identity perspective.

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  1. Participants did not have to determine if there were any GLO media vehicles that were not included on the questionnaire that they regularly consumed; rather, participants were answering this question with regards to any media vehicle that they consumed that was not included on the questionnaire. The questionnaire also asked participants to report their exposure to media vehicles that were considered part of mainstream media. However, data related to mainstream media exposure was used in a separate study (Bond, 2014) and was subsequently not reported in this manuscript.

  2. The questionnaire specifically asked participants to think beyond social networking sites and only report the websites that they visited for entertainment or information. However, participants only reported visiting social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube even after they were told not to report on websites such as these. This is telling; however, limitations involved in knowing exactly what participants were being exposed to on social networking sites were a validity concern. Consequently, these websites were not content analyzed in the current study. Future research should examine how adolescents navigate social networking sites for identity exploration purposes.

  3. Kunkel et al. (2005) referred to kissing as “passionate kissing.” During coder training, coders expressed difficulty distinguishing passionate kissing from other types of kissing even with a clear operational definition. The term “passionate kissing” was changed to “romantic kissing” to better reflect the definition of the category, thereby increasing intercoder reliability.

  4. No instances of LGB talk could be coded as heterosexual. LGB talk is, by nature, about lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals. As such, a Chi square goodness of fit test could not be conducted.


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The author would like to thank the Acord Equality Fund of Peoria, Illinois for funding assistance with this research. The author would also like to thank Mallory Fisk, Mason Gossard, Aubree Henderson, Chris Liu, Sara Salmon, and Ashley Walsh for their coding efforts on this project, and Dr. Kristen Harrison for her feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Bradley J. Bond.



See Table 3.

Table 3 Media vehicles in content analysis sample

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Bond, B.J. Portrayals of Sex and Sexuality in Gay- and Lesbian-Oriented Media: A Quantitative Content Analysis. Sexuality & Culture 19, 37–56 (2015).

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  • Media
  • Identity
  • Adolescence
  • Content analysis
  • Gay
  • Lesbian
  • Bisexual