Summer project: safe sex messages in films

By Sarah Borg, MSc Public Health (Health Promotion stream)

My summer project entitled, Portrayal of contraceptive use and consequences of sex in sex scenes: an analysis of recent films popular with young people utilising mixed methods, looks at the safe sex messages in films and how this can influence the attitudes and behaviours of young people.

I have watched 59 films (it’s been a rough summer), quantitatively analysing the number of times contraception and the consequences of sex are referred to in the films with sex scenes, and using thematic analysis to qualitatively analyse the sex scenes. The films were selected from the MTV Movie of the Year Nominees from the last 10 years, as I wanted modern films that are popular with young people, and MTV’s demographic is 12-34 year olds. The purpose of this project is to use previous research and theoretical underpinnings to see how the findings could potentially influence the attitudes and behaviours of young people in relation to sex.

So far, 47% of the films have sex scenes. 3% of these sex scenes show use of contraception, and 45% of scenes show consequences of sex including sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and social consequences of sex (like social embarrassment, regret, marital discord).

Whilst consent hasn’t been the main focus of my project, I have looked at it to see how consent may relate to whether contraceptive use or consequences of sex are referred to. 7% of the sex scenes are non-consensual. In all, bar one, the male is the perpetrator and the female the victim. In this particular scene, from the film Wedding Crashers, in which the perpetrator is female, it is displayed in a light-hearted and humorous light. In the scenes where the perpetrator is the male, they are portrayed in a serious light. This is an interesting finding and further research in this area is warranted.

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