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Review of "Sexual Teens, Sexual Media"

By Jane D. Brown, Jeanne R. Steele and Kim Walsh-Childers (editors)
Lawrence Erlbaum, 2001
Review by Kevin M. Purday on May 31st 2003
Sexual Teens, Sexual Media

            This book is a collection of eleven articles plus two introductory pieces about the media and teenagers' sexuality. The editors are, respectively, Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, a specialist in teens and the media who lectures at the University of St. Thomas, and an Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Florida. The authors whose articles are collected in the book also tend to be communications, advertising, media and journalism specialists although four of them are psychologists. The editors' and authors' specialist areas faithfully reflect the balance of the book which is published as part of Lawrence Erlbaum Associates' Communication Series and more specifically their Communication Theory and Methodology Subseries.

            The book's subtitle "Investigating Media's Influence on Adolescent Sexuality" is a good guide to the theme of the collection. The introductory article, written by the book's three editors, sets the tone with an appropriate cartoon and an overview of the importance of the media for young people, helping to shape both their views of themselves and their ideas of sexual relationships as well as being a source of factual information about all aspects of sexuality. Like all the articles in the book, this introduction has excellent tables and figures, is thoroughly researched and well documented and has a superb bibliography listing all the books and articles mentioned in the text. The second article of an introductory nature, "Shaking the Tree of Knowledge for Forbidden Fruit: Where Adolescents Learn about Sexuality and Contraception", is a well-researched comparison of the relative importance of peers, family, school and the media as sources of knowledge about matters sexual. One of its major conclusions is that there is a need for health professionals to work with the media to help them promote more responsible sexual behaviour and this sets the scene for the rest of the book.

            The book then falls into three sections: Television, four chapters; Magazines, three chapters; Movies/Music/Internet, four chapters. The chapters on television covering sexual messages in prime-time, daytime talk shows, adolescents' perceptions, and media impact on adolescents' body dissatisfaction, are all full of hard data, excellent analysis, good tables and figures and an approach which makes them highly suitable for college and university students pursuing a course in media or psychology. In Britain these articles would be ideal for A Level and undergraduate students of sociology as well as journalism, media and psychology. The detailed analysis tends to be quantitative but there is no lack of qualitative comment.

            The following section, Magazines, contains three chapters on magazine coverage of sex and sexual health, using magazines for sex information, and how girls use magazines to form an image of what it means to be a girl. The first of these three is heavily analytical and the results are expressed in precise quantitative terms making the data particularly useful to anyone pursuing similar research. The other two chapters give us a great deal more qualitative information; their intention is not to analyse and to reduce the data to quantitative form. The second of these two, "Girls in Print: Figuring Out What It Means to Be a Girl", was a real eye-opener for this reviewer as I was constantly reaching out for my dictionary of slang to look up words totally new to me!

            The last section, Movies/Music/Internet, is necessarily a bit of a mix. There is an article on the romantic agenda in the most popular movies that uses a detailed coding system to analyse the data. The second chapter in this section, "Teens and Movies: Something to Do, Plenty to Learn", used focus groups and in-depth interviews to discover how important movies are for teenagers. The third chapter, "The Sounds of Sex: Sex in Teens' Music and Music Videos", is basically laying some of the groundwork for future research into this area. Finally, the last chapter, "Sexual Selves on the World Wide Web: Adolescent Girls' Home Pages as Sites for Sexual Self-Expression", was another eye-opener for I had no idea that people deliberately placed extremely intimate details of their personal life on home pages on the web. This chapter was the result of a survey which by definition could only be a fairly random sample and the analysis is of necessity qualitative.

            The book as a whole should be extremely useful to a wide range of people. It is clearly not intended for the general public. However, the critical apparatus and the detailed data analysis make this an ideal book for teachers of subjects covering the whole communications/media/journalism/sociology/psychology range to include in their course reading. For students in those disciplines not only does the book provide a wealth of data but many of the studies, usually surveys, are easily replicable so that students could re-run the survey as a piece of their own coursework and then compare their results with those in this book. In conclusion, therefore, the book comes with a 'highly recommended' tag.


© 2003 Kevin M. Purday

Kevin M. Purday teaches at Worthing Sixth Form College, in the UK, and is currently a distance-learning student on the Philosophy & Ethics of Mental Health course in the Philosophy Dept. at the University of Warwick.

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