Sex and the City influences sexual health discussions

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If you watch “Sex and the City,” you may not realize that it can help make you more comfortable and willing to have discussions about sexual health with your partner. Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) found that college students were more than twice as likely to have such discussions after watching the HBO series.

TV characters can stimulate sexual health talk

“Sex and the City” is a cable TV show that originally broadcast all 94 episodes on HBO from 1998 until 2004. The series focused on the lives of four women (Samantha, Miranda, Charlotte, and Carrie) who routinely discussed topics such as safe sex, homosexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, and promiscuity in an open and frank manner with each other and with their partners and friends.

Emily Moyer-Guse, assistant professor of communication at OSU, conducted a study with two graduate students, in which they evaluated the responses of 243 college students (men and women; average age, 20) after they watched one of three versions of an episode from “Sex and the City.” All the versions were edited for the study.

One group of students watched a version in which Samantha and Miranda frankly discuss HIV and chlamydia with their sexual partners, friends, and doctors. The second group watched a version in which HIV and chlamydia are part of the episode, but there are no scenes where the characters discuss the topics extensively. The third group was shown a different episode that did not contain any references to sexual diseases.

Immediately after they watched the episodes, the participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their reaction to what they had seen, along with questions about how they identified with the characters and their personal ideas and plans regarding discussions about sexually transmitted diseases.

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This questionnaire was followed two weeks later by an online version where participants commented about whether they had talked to others about sexual health topics. The researchers found that 46 percent of students who saw the episode in which the characters spoke frankly about sexual health issues went on to talk to their romantic partners about the subject during that two-week period.

Among students in the second group, only 21 percent said they ended up discussing sexual health issues with their romantic partner, and only 15 percent of those in the group that saw the unrelated episode ever held such discussions with their partner during that two-week span.

Moyer-Guse pointed out that “Viewers will model their behavior after the TV characters, and have these conversations in their own lives.” She noted, however, that it was important for the students to identify with the characters for the episode to have an impact on their behavior.

“When participants saw the characters demonstrate the confidence and ability to successfully navigate these tricky conversations,” said Moyer-Guse, “it gave them a social script to follow in their own lives.” In fact, students who identified with the characters said they felt more confident when they had their discussions about sexual issues with others.

Watching the “Sex and the City” episode did not have an immediate impact, however. Moyer-Guse noted that “it took a while for the program to really have an effect.” Although the participants may not have thought that their seeing the episode had influenced them in any way, “in the end it did change their behavior,” she said.

The results of this study suggest that people may be more likely to talk about sexual health topics with others after they have watched their favorite TV characters do it. Moyer-Guse also pointed out that the men who watched the “Sex and the City” episodes “had reactions that were very similar to what we found in women viewers.”

SOURCE:
Ohio State University

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