Friday, February 17, 2012

A Look into the Influence of Media: Human Sexuality, Human Culture, Gender Issues, and Same-Sex Marriage

Media's global power lies in the hands of sexual humans.

The definition of human sexuality carries a broad spectrum of human experiences. However, reproduction is its core activity (Benagiano & Mori, 2009, p. 50). With the multiplication of sexual human species, a sexual human culture has evolved (Kauth, 2006). 

Culture's birth among humans has introduced the concepts of "gender" and "social reproduction". Referring to feminist studies, Laslett and Brenner (1989) explained that gender as a cultural construction based on biological sexual differences between men and women, while social reproduction refers to individual dispositions and functions aimed at maintaining everyday life and sustaining generations (p. 382). 

Human Culture and the Market: The Role of Media

Akin to sexuality, culture is a common feature of human beings across the globe (Kanazawa, 2008). In his “What is Culture?” (2006), O’Neil quoted Edward Tylor’s first definition of culture in 1871 to explain what human culture is: “…that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits…" (para. 1). Its context, however, is not merely social; it is also economic.

Human culture, as Lavoie and Chamlee-Wright (2002) wrote, is evident in the marketplace and serves “as the framework of shared meaning for a people” (p.1). People’s creativity and innovation are behind technologies that spurred the growth of industries, including media companies. Through the use of language, which is one of the products of a people’s culture, these media firms capitalize on the power of communication and information to promote or sell a myriad of ideas, goods, and services. It is in this light that makes human culture vital to the development of markets (Lavoie & Chamlee-Wright, 2002, p.1).

Conversely, according to Rothkopf (1997), the markets through various agents–church, school, home, government–function as the engine of human culture. The author posited that:

Culture is not static…Language, religion, political and legal systems, and social customs…reflect the judgment of the marketplace of ideas…Culture is used by the organizers of society—politicians, theologians, academics, and families—to impose and ensure order, the rudiments of which change over time as need dictates. (para. 6) 

Media Production of Sexual Contents and Images

Over the last few decades sexual behaviors and values have changed tremendously. With the rise of information and communication technologies (ICTs), different forms of media (print [e.g., newspapers, books], broadcast [e.g., radio, cable and satellite television], and digital/electronic [e.g., the Internet, mobile phones]) have contributed to these changes. Other media-related products like movies, music videos, commercials, and music likewise relay overt and subliminal messages about sex and sexual relationships.

Kauth (2006) noted how “Sexy images of young, beautiful, and seductively clad women and men are employed in advertisements for any number of products…associating attraction to the sexual images with attraction to the product” (p. 2) have dominated a capitalist Western culture. These images though are also present in other countries due to the global reach of some Western businesses. Undoubtedly, human sexuality is used as a business marketing strategy. It also plays a crucial role when a consumer decides what product or service to buy (Rudell, 1993).

Effects of Media Consumption

Certainly, media companies, together with state governments and other industries, have made ICTs accessible to people across many cultures. Such accessibility has its benefits and pitfalls. 

On one hand, the media have a significant influence in the beliefs, behaviors, values, and attitudes of younger generations when it comes to sexuality and other sex-related topics (Brown, L'Engle, Jackson, Pardun, Kenneavy, & Guo, 2005). Due to traditional sexual taboos, the media function as the mouthpiece of parents who cannot or do not want to talk to their children about sex (Strasburger, 1995). Aside from this, the media educate teenagers and adults about the basics of sexual health, such as the anatomy of the human body and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

In a policy paper in 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognized the media as “the leading sex educators of children and adolescents today”, with consumption recorded at 38 hours/week (AAP, 2001). Citing a Time/CNN poll, Stodghill (as cited in Harris and Barlett, 2009) reported the increase from 11% in 1986 to 29% in 1998 among teenagers who credited television for informing them about sex. The AAP likewise noted how television and advocacy advertising inform adults about family-planning clinics (AAP, 2001). 

The Media, Sexual Behaviors, and Gender Issues

However, other people are concerned about the extent of media’s influence among the youth and their view of sex (Brown et al., 2005). The media are loaded with explicit and suggestive sexual materials which are either acceptable or unacceptable in various cultures. These contents promote sexual liberalism, as well as non-normative sexual orientations like homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism.

Such sexual messages through various media are said to influence promiscuity, unwanted pregnancies, and STDs, among others. In their survey involving 586 college students, Tahlil and Young (2009) found that engaging in sexual behaviors and watching sexual content in media are strongly correlated (p. 249). 

In addition, the media contribute to perpetuating gender stereotypes and other forms of gender discrimination. The Internet, for instance, has a wellspring of pornographic material which often portrays women as sex objects. 

Moreover, the Media Awareness Network (MAN, 2010) noted how the media and advertising companies have jointly created standards of beauty that put undue pressure on men and women. The presentation of unrealistic body images of skinny women and muscled men serves as one of the factors for the existence of eating disorders. Citing reports from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and Children Now (CN), MAN (2010) added how TV commercials and video games depict characters whose physical and sexual features are highlighted (e.g., cleavage exposure, minimal dressing, etc.) to attract consumers and players. 

Sex-related Laws: The Case of Same-Sex Marriages

The media have limited, if not zero, impact on same-sex marriage laws

Laws related to sexual behaviors and sexual relations are as diverse or as varied as the concept of “sexuality” itself. Aggleton (2007) observed how these statutes have changed to cushion the impact of media-based content about non-traditional sexual orientations and relationships. 

For instance, according to the Associated Press (2011), there are 10 countries so far that allow same-sex marriages: the Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Iceland, Argentina, Sweden, Belgium, South Africa, Norway, and Spain. Australia intends to follow suit, but there are doubts that the pro-gay marriage bill will receive parliamentary support (Associated Press, 2012).

Similarly, the United States (US) has different laws to regulate sexual behaviors. Whereas previously, same sex marriages were considered illegal (Ramos, Dittus, Jaccard, Gonzalez, & AM, 2008), some states later legalized these unions

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures or NCSL (2012), only six states and a district so far provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples. These are: the Connecticut, New York, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia (Washington). There are likewise states that allow same-sex civil unions, namely: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.      

However, Colvin (2006), after examining 879 cases of LGBT-related laws for the past two decades in the United States, said that media had limited, if not nil, influence on the ratification of these particular statutes (p. 2). He then cited public and private influences on policy innovation, a governor’s political party, racial composition, and size of LGBT population as the forces behind gay rights laws in the country (Colvin, 2006, p. 2).

On the other hand, many countries in Africa and Asia remain adamant to recognizing the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBTs). The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission or IGLHRC (2012) reported the suppression of LGBT-related activities and the reintroduction of an anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda. It also noted Indonesia’s labeling of LGBT-friendly sites as pornographic, as well as Korea’s removal of a provision to protect LGBT students (IGLHRC, 2012).

In spite of these sexual oppressions, there are LGBT-friendly efforts in some areas. The government of Nepal, for example, intends to boost the country's tourism industry with the help of gays and lesbians who would like to hold their weddings on Mount Everest (Nelson, 2010). Another case involves Japan where its justice ministry gave permission to homosexual citizens to marry their partners in countries that allow same-sex marriages, in spite of its refusal to provide such civil right (AFP Tokyo, 2009).

Apart from raising awareness about LGBTs, the media have contributed to informing the public about other laws linked to human sexuality and gender issues. These include prostitution, rape, incest, genital mutilation, pornography, bullying, harassment, domestic abuse, divorce, abortion, and human trafficking, among others.

These developments would have not been made known to other people if state governments, advocacy groups, civil society organizations, and individual activists failed to realize the power of the media to disseminate good and bad information about sex-related issues and policies. 


Advocates for Youth (1984). Contraceptive product advertising: Broadcast media, teenagers, and sexuality. Washington, DC: Center for Population Options. 

Aggleton, P. ( 2007). Culture, society and sexuality: a reader. New York: Taylor & Francis.

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2001). Sexuality, contraception, and the media. Pedicatrics, 107(1), 191-194. 

Benagiano, G. & Mori, M. (2009). The origins of human sexuality: Procreation or recreation? Ethics, Bioscience and Life, 4(1), 50-59.

Brown, J., L'Engle, K. L., Jackson, C., Pardun, C., Kenneavy, K., & Guo, G. (2005). Sexy media matter: Exposure to sexual content in music, movies, television, and magazines predicts Black and White adolescents' sexual behavior. Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 44-56.

Harris, R.J. & Barlett, C.P. (2009). Effects of sex in the media. Media effects: Advances in theory and research (3rd ed). Erlbaum/Psychology Press. 

Kanazawa, S. (2008). There is only one human culture. A look at the hard truths about human nature. The Scientific Fundamentalist.

Kauth, M.R. (2006). The evolution of human sexuality: An introduction. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. Hawthorne Press.

Laslett, B. & Brenner, J. (1989). Gender and social reproduction: Historical perspectives. Annual Review of Sociology,. 15, 381-404. Annual Reviews Inc. 

Lavoie, D. & Chamlee-Wright, E. (2002). Culture and the wealth of nations. CATO Policy Report 24(1).

Media Awareness Network. (2010). Sex and relationships in the media

O’Neil, D. (2006). What is culture? Human culture: An introduction to the characteristics of culture and the methods used by anthropologists to study it.

Ramos, G., Dittus, P., Jaccard, J., Gonzalez, B., & AM, B. (2008). A conceptual framework for the analysis of risk and problem behaviors: The case of adolescent sexual behavior. Sexual Risk Behavior Journal Articles, 29-45.

Rothkopf, D. (1997). In praise of cultural imperialism? Foreign Policy (107)

Rudell, F. (1993), Gender differences in consumer decision making for personal computers: A test of hypotheses. Gender and Consumer Behavior. 2:1-16. Association for Consumer Research.

Strasburger, V.C. (1995). Adolescents and the media: Medical and psychological impact. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Strong, B., Yarbe, W., DeVault, C., & Sayad, B. (2006). Human sexuality: Diversity in contemporary America. New York: McGraw Hill.

Tahlil, T. & Young, M. (2009).  Viewing sexual media and sexual behaviors, are they really related? American Journal of Health Studies, 24(1), 249-256.
*Other sources not included in this list are highlighted in the article.

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