An exploration of the association between sexually explicit media and sexual risk-taking by us men who have sex with men

Published: July 18, 2010

An exploration of the association between sexually explicit media and sexual risk-taking by us men who have sex with men

J.M. Wilkerson Jr., B.R.S. Roser, J. Grey, R. Weinmeyer, D. Smolenski

University of Minnesota, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, Minneapolis, United States

Background: US men who have sex with men (MSM) are high consumers of sexually explicit media (SEM), yet almost no studies of gay SEM have been published. This presentation reports qualitative data about SEM’s contribution to MSM’s sexual risk.

Methods: Using banner ads, MSM were recruited from gay websites to participate in one of twelve online synchronous focus groups and an asynchronous message board. Participants were male, age 18+, a US resident, and reported at least one male sexual partner. After completing an eligibility questionnaire and consenting, participants were divided into focus groups based on their SEM consumption and whether their consumption was problematic. Content analysis was conducted in Nvivo8.

Results: Sexual Script Theory provided a useful analytic framework. The prevalence and accessibility of SEM contributed to a cultural scenario that normalized its consumption. Men used SEM to learn about new sexual acts or to facilitate sexual fantasies or escapism, often while masturbating. Intrapsychically, MSM exploring new sexual acts imagined scripts that were, on occasion, acted out with others. Interpersonally, those reporting problematic SEM consumption more frequently acted out a risky script than those reporting non-problematic consumption. Participants resolved cognitive dissonance by either modifying their intrapsychic script or by avoiding the behavior in the future. Participants using SEM for fantasy or escapism were less likely to report cognitive dissonance. These men used SEM to virtually enact sexual scripts – with the actors – that they did not intend to do in real life.

Conclusions: This study identifies potential causal pathways between SEM consumption and sexual beliefs and behaviors that interventionists might use to identify points where new interventions could be developed. More research is needed to validate the proposed pathways before developing SEM-based interventions.

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