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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. While existing content analyses have provided insightful information in terms of contextual factors and frequency of sexual behaviors, not much is known about the relational context in which sexual depictions generally occur. The current study addresses this void by employing content analytic methods to measure the frequency and context of depictions of sexual behavior within nine popular television shows produced in the U. The suggest that, in the analyzed television shows, sexual behaviors within a casual sexual context were almost as frequently shown as sexual behaviors within a committed relationship context.

Whereas sexual behaviors within a committed relationship context were mainly limited to passionate kissing, sexual behaviors within a casual sexual context mostly consisted of explicit portrayals of sexual intercourse. Additionally, genre seemed to be an important factor when examining casual sexual television content.

The situational comedy genre, for example, had no explicit portrayals of intercourse and mainly portrayed kissing couples within a committed relationship. The comedy drama genre, on the contrary, had the largest proportion of explicit sexual portrayals, usually between casual sexual partners. A second goal of this study was to analyze the portrayals of the typical casual sexual experience script and the typical casual sexual relationship script in which these sexual behaviors often occur.

For instance, our analyses revealed that female characters were more likely to initiate casual sex compared to male characters. Moreover, casual sex often occurred between former partners. Recently, an expanding body of literature has investigated the prevalence and consequences of casual sexual experiences and relationships e.

The predominant concerns about participation in casual sex revolve around negative mental outcomes Bersamin et al. It has been shown that a of sexual scripts exist and that casual sex can be highly scripted e. Several researchers already hinted that television as a cultural storyteller partly aids in creating casual sexual scripts e. Yet, relatively little is known about how these casual sexual scripts are portrayed in popular television shows. When reviewing existing content analyses related to sexual behavior on the screen e. Accordingly, the purpose of this study was twofold.

First, this study will map frequencies of sexual portrayals within its context on a of popular U. Given that females, in particular, still experience some stigma when engaging in casual sex e. Therefore, the occurrence of sexual behaviors within casual sexual experiences and relationships will be contrasted with the occurrence of sexual behavior within more socially accepted romantic constructs such as traditional dates and romantic relationships, while taking into the type of sexual behavior.

This will be examined for three different genres relevant to the purpose of this study. Secondly, we argue that it is important to gain insights in the casual sexual experience script and the casual sexual relationship script frequently portrayed in popular fiction, as they aid in understanding what is to be expected within casual sexual scripts.

In contrast to theories rooted in evolutionary biology e. Cultural sexual scripts are the societal norms and narratives that provide guidelines for sexual behaviors such as the of sexual partners that is appropriate, the variety of sexual acts, motives for casual sex, and suitable emotions and feelings e.

Over the past decade, more and more researchers across the globe noticed new cultural sexual scripts on the college campus in which casual sex either occurs 1 within a casual sexual experience such as sexual hookups or one night stands e. Consequently, it is important to differentiate between the casual sexual experience script and the casual sexual relationship script. A casual sexual experience is generally described as a spontaneous sexual encounter that mostly occurs in a context where friends are present and alcohol facilitates the casual sexual interaction e.

An ongoing series of sexual encounters between two individuals is generally referred to as a casual sexual relationship. Communication within a casual sexual experience is often described as nonverbal e. Contrarily, casual sexual relationships allow for other kinds of interactions besides the sexual, thereby being more likely to create expectations of emotional involvement Mongeau et al. However, compared to couples in committed relationships, casual sexual partners still perform less committing acts such as talking and handholding Jonason et al.

Several studies showed that between thirty and fifty percent of emerging adults had had at least one casual sexual relationship during college, with men being more likely to report engagement in casual sexual relationships compared to women e. Overall, casual sexual scripts are perceived as less formal than the widely recognized conventions in dating scripts.

Additionally, a date is usually arranged, whereas a casual sexual encounter is often an unplanned consequence of a social gathering e. While some studies suggest that the dating script and casual sexual scripts coexist e. Not only dates, but even committed relationships are often preceded by casual sexual scripts e. While the possibility of a romantic relationship is often a reason to start a casual sexual relationship e. The pressure to act in accordance with these false perceived norms i. More than ever, emerging adults now believe that casual sex is something they are supposed to have Wade, Several researchers already argued that television can provide narratives that partly influence these culturally accepted casual sexual scripts e.

Consequently, it might be helpful to examine how television has portrayed casual sexual behavior over the past decade to better understand these casual sexual scripts. When these observed models i. Therefore, it is important to gain a better idea of what is already known about sexual behavior on the screen and which research gaps still need more attention.

The majority of content analyses have been carried out to examine the frequency of sexual references and behaviors in television content produced in the U. Such studies found that talk about sex is generally shown more often than sexual behavior Kunkel et al. These studies are certainly useful in gaining a better understanding of contextual factors and gender representations related to sexual references and behavior. Yet, the large majority of these content analyses does not provide any information related to the relational context in which these sexual behaviors can occur, thereby providing relatively few information related to casual sex on the screen.

When comparing findings between content analyses on soap operas conducted in , , and , Greenberg and Woods showed that sexual activity was most commonly portrayed or talked about as occurring between two unmarried people. Remarkably, ificantly fewer portrayals or sexual references of intercourse between married couples occurred.

Yet, based on the coded information, it is not clear whether unmarried intercourse refers to premarital sex between committed partners or casual sexual intercourse between strangers or people in a casual sexual relationship. Kunkel et al. In another study, Kunkel et al.

Whereas the aforementioned studies already indicate that casual sexual scripts do occur in U. For instance, such findings raise the question whether and with what frequency such sexual encounters are repetitive and lead to a casual sexual relationship or remain casual non-repetitive sexual encounters.

When a sexual act is shown between two individuals in a committed relationship, viewers receive a different message than when exposed to a casual sexual experience. When focusing solely on sexual intercourse, Kunkel et al. Such findings thus raise the question which sexual behaviors are typically shown within these casual sexual scripts. RQ1: Is the type of sexual behavior shown in popular U.

Empirical studies showed that effects related to exposure to sexual content vary by genre e. Additionally, several content analyses demonstrated that some genres are more likely to show sexual portrayals compared to others e. Fisher et al. When comparing comedy series, drama series, movies, news magazines, soap operas, talk shows, and reality shows, Kunkel et al. Furthermore, these genres do not only differ in the frequency of sexual portrayals, but also in the context related to these sexual portrayals.

Comedies, for instance, have ificantly fewer risk and responsibility messages compared to shows that fall into the drama category Gottfried et al. It could thus be that these genres also differ with regards to the relational context of the sexual behaviors. RQ2: Is the relational context of the sexual behavior related to the genre of the popular U. The next research questions are related to the casual sexual scripts.

As mass media play an important role in conveying cultural scenarios Wiederman, , television, together with other media, plays a crucial role in influencing the cultural script, which in turn impacts the interpersonal and intrapsychic scripts. Regarding the casual sexual experience script in reality, alcohol is often cited as a contextual factor that facilitates engagement in casual sex e. In the college environment, college students will often gather together in large groups, consume a decent amount of alcohol, and pair off as the evening progresses e.

Race and class also seem to guide the casual sexual experience script, as studies found that mainly white and middle-class students report engagement in casual sex, whereas Hispanic, African American, and Asian American students report ificantly fewer casual sexual experiences e. Some argue that the cultural sexual script deployed by both mainstream and sexually explicit media is that casual sexual experiences are normative, fun, and recreational e. Therefore, the third research question is formulated as follows:. Regarding the casual sexual relationship script, it is important to note that several types of casual sexual relationships exist.

Mongeau et al. Desiring a romantic relationship is often a motive to engage in casual sex e. In their descriptions of casual sexual scripts, women even described a man who led the woman to believe that he was interested in a long-term relationship when in fact he was only interested in sex Littleton et al.

Given the numerous of casual sexual relationships, one might wonder which of these casual sexual relationships are often portrayed on the screen. Consequently, the final research question is formulated as follows:. For the purpose of this study, three genres that have been shown to repeatedly portray sexual behaviors e. Given that fiction produced in the U. Therefore, we chose three different programs produced in the U. To select shows within those genres, programs aired between 1 and were chosen, given that the subject of casual sex has received quite some attention in academia since e.

For the purpose of this study, we aimed to include shows that are known for their portrayals of abundant and vivid sex scenes i. In addition, we aimed to include U. We also wanted to include shows depicting emerging adults e. While this sample includes shows that are no longer in production, such as Friends and Sex and the City , it is important to note that these shows are still very popular, especially among international audiences Brown et al.

Since research noted that media effects are dependent on whether the program content is perceived as being realistic or not Taylor, , it was proposed that viewers may not strongly identify with situations that are not set within this world e. In addition, series not set within the current time period were not included in our sample e. Popular movie and television shows databases e. Regarding episode selection, every first and last episode of every season of every show was selected as recommended by Manganello, Franzini, and Jordan According to Manganello et al.

Consequently, for the purpose of this study, we decided to act upon this recommendation. Additionally, one to four episodes, depending on the episode length and the of seasons coded, were selected using a random generator. In total, episodes were subjected to this content analysis, resulting in Coders distinguished a total of scenes, of which 9. A scene was defined as a collection of shots taken over one action or one event in the same location and at the same time. Coders were instructed to code a new scene when a time shift occurred e. Intercoder reliability will be discussed in the last part of this methods section.

The coding scheme identified four different contexts in which such sexual behaviors could occur: 1 casual sexual experiences , 2 casual sexual relationships , 3 dates , and 4 committed relationships. Coders identified a casual sexual experience based on the definition by Garcia and Reiber , p. Coders were encouraged to code displays of permissiveness on the episode—or season-level, as such coding is often not clear based on the scene-level.

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