experiments that would clearly demonstrate what consequences exposure has or does not have on young people. For example, a study design in which children were shown sexually explicit material in order to identify short- and long-term effects of exposure would be unacceptable: it would be unethical to expose them to material thought potentially to have a negative impact in order to measure and identify this impact. However, as this chapter discusses, researchers have been able to conduct some clinical studies using media content other than sexually explicit content—research on violent material is one such example. This is because our society has more permissive attitudes about allowing young people to view violent material compared with sexually explicit material. In addition, a few studies of sexually explicit material have used college-age viewers as away of extrapolating the impact this material may have on younger populations (Donnerstein and Linz, 1986; Zillmann, 1982; Zillmann and Bryant, 1982; Zillmann and Weaver, 1999).
Workshop participants extrapolated cautiously from empirical studies on violent media content to sexually explicit material, since similar learning processes underlie how exposure may lead to impact. They discussed research on sexually violent material done with college-age students as well as research that examines what effects sexuality in the media may have on adolescents. This research does not deal with pornography, but rather the type of sexually laden themes one finds in soap operas and women's magazines. These are media forms that many young people are exposed to, although they do not contain the type of explicit sexuality one finds in adult movies or magazines.
According to Joanne Cantor, professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, several types of effects have been observed in studies of violent media content and children: desensitization, increases in hostility, imitation and disinhibition, and fear and anxiety responses. Desensitization occurs when an emotional response to a stimulus is diminished after repeated exposure to that stimulus. This can be adaptive—a doctor who becomes accustomed to seeing blood and does not have the strong emotional response he experienced in medical school is of benefit to his patients. The media, however, creates fantasy exposures to content that can cause arousal and, over time, desensitization when it is not necessarily (and often not)