Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 22–38 | Cite as

Sex in the Media, Sex on the Mind: Linking Television Use, Sexual Permissiveness, and Sexual Concept Accessibility in Memory

  • Francesca R. Dillman Carpentier
  • Elise M. Stevens
Original Paper


The present study explores the interrelationships between emerging adults’ exposure to sexual depictions on mainstream television, their attitudes toward sexually permissive behaviors, and the salience (accessibility) of concepts related to sexual activity in their implicit memory. Findings indicate a small but significant relationship between increased exposure to sex on television and increased favoring of sexually permissive behaviors, when taking sexual concept accessibility into account. When taking television exposure into account, young adults who held stronger sexually permissive attitudes found it easier to access concepts of sexual activity in memory, suggesting these ideas were top-of-mind for these participants, compared to participants scoring lower on permissiveness. However, there was no direct connection between exposure to sex on television and accessibility of sexual activity in memory when accounting for permissive attitudes, suggesting that sexual permissiveness is at the center of any link between exposure and accessibility. Implications for examining sexual permissiveness as a lens for structuring sexual information in memory, as well as implications for designing sexual health messages are discussed in light of the findings.


College students Concept accessibility Emerging adults Health behavior and attitudes Mass media Permissiveness Premarital sexuality Sexual attitudes Sexual content Television 



This study was funded by a research grant from the Mass Communication and Society division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Media and JournalismUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.University of Oklahoma Health Sciences CenterOklahoma CityUSA

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