Can you learn about safe sex from porn movies?

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CNN Health recently ran an interesting story about efforts in Los Angeles to pass a law requiring the use of condoms in all adult films produced in the city.  Safer sex advocates hope that seeing condoms used in these films may help to make them more acceptable to the public.  

But will it?  Is a message that encourages a positive health behavior more likely to be received if its delivered within a fictionalized story (and believe me guys, porn moves are fiction with a capial “F”) as opposed to a news report or public service announcement?

It’s a good question, and one that a professor right here at Ohio State tried to answer last year in a research study published in the journal Human Communication Research.  Emily Moyer-Gusé and her colleague at UC Santa Barbara (go Banana Slugs!), Robin Nabi, compared how college-aged participants responded to televised messages regarding unprotected sex and the risk for unintended pregnancy. 

Their findings?

  • Presenting this information in a news format, with interviews with young people coping with an unexpected pregnancy, had LITTLE EFFECT on the participants’ likelihood to use birth control.
  • Presenting the same information in a dramatic setting (in this case, an episode of the TV show “The OC”) led the female subjects to commit to taking action to prevent pregnancies in the future.
  • The male subjects, on the other hand, were actually LESS LIKELY to take action after watching the drama.

The researchers surmised that the women were more emotionally in touch with the characters in the TV drama so the show’s message had more impact, while the men may have been turned off by the storyline and therefore less receptive to the health message.

But can porn movies teach anybody anything about the realities of sex?  I doubt it.  Guys have never exactly paid too much attention to their storylines, so I’m guessing that adding condoms to the prop department won’t do that much to promote the cause of safe sex.  Hopefully I’m wrong.

But in the meantime, always wear a condom regardless of what you see onscreen.  Your risk of getting an STD is even higher than the risk of pregnancy without one, and you could probably do without either situation in your life right now. 

If you are having unprotected sex, be sure to call Student Health to come in and Get Yourself Tested.

Roger Miller, MD (OSU Student Health Services)

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