In popular media, there is a great deal of sexual content that is portrayed through characters and plot. This type of content tends to depict women in a stereotypical and objectified light. In soap operas, women seem to take the role of being seductive and sneaky. Most women, I would imagine, would not want to be seen so simplistically. If this is so, then why are audiences, or more specifically women, attracted to soap operas? Is it because the men tend to put down women’s tastes in television programs and, as a result of their active defiance of masculine power, women choose to watch it?
Is it the sexual content or the power they get from watching it? Being sexual can translate into having power, especially for the female gender. Exposure to sexually oriented media content can influence the ways viewers feel about themselves, their relationships, and what is “normal” sexual behavior. Along with this, the use of attractive models gives the audience someone or something to imitate. When characters are shown as powerful, prestigious, and rewarded for their behaviors, viewers, especially younger ones, are more likely to learn and imitate their behaviors.
This is why there is much focus on the consequences of sexual depictions, so that adolescents, who are beginning their sexual lives, don’t get the wrong image. Television soap operas are based on personal relationships within the every day life of its characters. They also have a high level of sexual content, and in recent years have incorporated storylines on topics of homosexuality, transsexuality, and oral sex as well as AIDS, abstinence, and contraception.
In the article, “Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media,” we see how the media have a strong influence on the sexual values of individuals, especially adolescents, The authors state, “Although there are only a handful of studies that deal with the relationship between sexual content in the media and adolescents’ behavior, a number of studies demonstrate that television powerfully influences teenagers’ sexual attitudes, values, and beliefs. ” Although sexual activity is a behavior, a person’s values and beliefs can reflect in ones behavior, actions and choices.
If values can shape a persons’ behavior, it is no wonder that teenagers are starting to become sexually active when they are not ready. By watching soaps, it is apparent how intercourse and kissing are the most frequently occurring sexual behavior, although verbal references are far more common than visual ones. There are a variety of ways that sexuality is portrayed in soaps and throughout media in general. There are two that I noticed were used the most throughout recent soap opera episodes. There are the verbal references to sex, like sexual or seductive talk, along with the discussions of planning or consequences when sex occurs.
The authors of, “Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media,” state, “Television and movies often present consequence-free sexuality and a combination of sex and violence. ” The depiction or discussion of any consequence is important for learning purposes. It makes sense that behaviors that are rewarded are more likely to be imitated than the behaviors that are punished. If the instances of safe sex references occurred more often throughout soap operas and the media, then maybe people would be more inclined to do so.
In understanding this, it is clear how the high incidence of positive outcomes could increase the chance that audiences will imitate the behaviors. Although this is true, the rare discussion or planning of sexual consequences might also give the viewers the impression that the behaviors are spontaneous and unplanned, without any negative consequences. If there are discussions or depictions of responsible sexual activity with good outcomes, then there is a good possibility that the viewers would want to imitate this behavior.
The article states, “References to responsible behavior associated with sexual activity continue to be rare. Usually they are censored as too controversial. ” It is interesting to note that although there are many programs that have sexual content, most of them, I noticed, do not discuss its consequences. Soap operas occasionally discuss sexual consequences, but that is rare as well. Seeing issues that characters have in relationships could be a possible reason that people, especially women, enjoy viewing soap operas.
One of the most apparent forms of sexual content seemed to be kissing. There are short modest kisses and long passionate ones between characters. I noticed that kissing occurred most frequently between couples who were either involved in an established romantic relationship or who were making the transition from friendship to a romantic relationship. A 1994 study by Greenberg and Woods looked at ten hours of each of the five soaps and found that of the 333 acts studied, 225 were verbal references, with no visual counterpart.
This article titled, “The Soaps: Their Sex, Gratifications, and Outcomes,” by Greenberg and Woods, said that, this is true of all types of sexual activity except kisses, which were shown 57 times in their sample (1. 1 times per hour). Kissing was never discussed, but the visual depictions say it all. The talk about sexual intercourse seemed to occur between characters that were not sexually or romantically involved. The contexts of these discussions were more likely to be between friends, co-workers, or family members than between romantic partners.
When visual depiction of sexual intercourse occurred, it was usually shown within the context of a committed relationship. This visual depiction is less frequent than kissing, for example, and nude people are not shown. The way that they get their message across to the audience is by offering a perspective to the viewer, making it clear that the characters were nude. This generally meant that a character’s back and legs were exposed from under the covers, bare shoulders emerged from a swimming pool, or depictions of a negligee or boxers fell to the floor around bare legs.
This type of sexual depiction often goes without the discussion of consequences (along with kissing, but that is relatively harmless). In their studies, Greenberg and Woods looked for specific references to safe sex and/or contraception. They found only five references that occurred in three of the 50 episodes studied. “Thus, sex on soaps occurred in the absence of specific references to safe sex or to contraception. AIDS was ignored, and no other sexually transmitted diseases were mentioned. Discussion about sex among teenagers seldom involved parents” (10).
Although there is some discussion of sexual consequences on soaps, it may not be enough to counteract the effects of poor choices that the audience may make as a result. There is the sexual content of rape portrayed within soap operas as well. This, as we all know, is not a positive attribute to sex and sexuality, but it is covered within this genre. About a decade ago on, General Hospital, there were two characters, Luke and Laura. The two of them were not close; in fact they barely knew each other. One evening Luke raped Laura and she was traumatized.
As time went on, the two of them got to know one another and the traumatic event began to fade. Laura actually transformed the horrific rape encounter into a sexual or romantic encounter. In this instance, the soap is portraying a negative message to its audience and conveys the horrible thought that women want to be raped. This is obviously not true, but to younger audiences who do not understand their sexuality yet, they might be getting the wrong message. Recently there is less talk about date rape, and less instances of it portrayed in daytime television.