Promoting healthy, romantic relationships

From staff reports

The rise of crime dramas on cable television may have a bigger impact on audiences than they realize.

Associate Professor Stacey Hust is researching the dynamic between adolescence, romantic relationships and the media. She focuses on how high school and college students make sense of the sexual scripts in mass media and how they use those scripts to make sense of their romantic relationships.

Sexual scripts are what media promotes in terms of different messages for men and women, and boys and girls in regards to relationships and sex. There are contrasting messages for men and women, Hust said.

“Men are told to have as much sex as they can as soon as they can have it with as many people as possible, and that this is the key component to their masculinity,” Hust said.

Hust observes how adolescents perceive these messages and if those messages play a role in things like dating, sexual consent negotiation, and sexual cohesion.

“Women are told they are the gate keepers of sexual activity — they say yes or no,” Hust said. “At the same time they are supposed to be pure and virtuosos, but also be strong and sophisticated. This is a conflicting message.”

Hust specifically focuses on two forms of media: crime dramas and music videos.

What she found in her studies of crime dramas is that people are less likely to believe rape myths. Rape myths place the blame for sexual assault on the woman.

Because of this research, Hust became interested in how crime dramas would be associated with sexual consent and negotiation because conversations of this nature are often present in the show.

An example she uses for crime dramas are the Law and Order, and CSI franchises.

These two programs provide different positive and negative messages to their audiences.

Hust found exposure to the Law and Order franchise was associated with decreased acceptance of rape myths, increased intentions to refuse unwanted sexual activity, and increased intentions to adhere to decisions related to sexual consent.

When she looked at exposure to CSI, it associated with decreased intentions to seek consent and decreased intentions to adhere to expressions of consent.

“Overall, the results indicate that the context of mediated portrayals is associated with whether viewers hold healthy or unhealthy attitudes and intentions related to sexual consent negotiation,” Hust said.

Hust and Kathleen Boyce Rodgers, an associate professor in human development, are looking at the perceptions of content in music videos by college students to learn about what they perceive, as well as if their perceptions of content is associated with attitudes or behaviors.

“In an online survey, students selected and watched two music videos and reported what they perceived from a checklist of options after each video viewing,” Rodgers said. “Our analyses indicate that across different genres, two content themes appear to be consistent.”

Sexualization of women and aggression against women are the two other themes Rodgers observed in music videos.

Hust said when sex and violence are portrayed simultaneously in a music video, there could be negative consequences.

“I think that it normalizes violence with sex,” Hust said. “I don’t know how it wouldn’t normalize that in some way among viewers.”

Hust said that media consumers need to be more critical of the content they are reading or watching.

“My goal is to help people have healthier romantic relationships and for people to realize that the media does not always present the best message,” Hust said.

Reporting by Sophia Steele