Growing Up With Media: Exposure to violent material

X-rated magazines:

Less than 1 of every 7 youth across Wave looked at an X-rated magazine where the main topic was sex in the past 12 months.

At Wave 1, 12% of all youth surveyed reported looking at X-rated magazines where the main topic was sex at least once in the past 12 months. Similar rates were reported in Wave 2 (13%) and Wave 3 (11%).


As expected base upon other types of X-rated exposures, age strongly predicted an increased likelihood of reporting exposure to X-rated magazines.  Trend lines suggest that these rates decreased from Wave 1 to Wave 3, once age was taken into account (i.e., the Wave 3 line is below the Wave 1 line).

X-rated magazine characteristics Wave 1
(n = 180)
Wave 2
(n = 157)
Wave 3
(n = 135)
How often looked at X-rated magazine in the last year…°
Every day/ almost every day 2%
Once or twice a week 13%
Once or twice a month 26%
Less often than once a month 58%
Who wanted to see X-rated magazine…°°
I selected magazine to look at 31% 31%
Other people were looking and I was in the room 35% 49%
I felt pressured 15% 10%
Something else 23% 17%

°This question was asked only at Wave 3.
°°This question was asked only at Waves 2 and 3.

About two in five youth who looked at X-rated magazines in the past year did so once a month or more often.  Similar to movies, most youth said that they personally selected the magazine (31%), or other people were looking at the magazine when the youth was in the room (35-49%).

Boys more commonly reported seeing X-rated content in magazines, movies, and on websites in the past 12 months compared to girls.

Any X-rated exposure in past 12 months Type of media showing X-rated material by biological sex
Websites Movies Magazines
Wave 1
Male (n=794) 12% 11% 16%
Female (n=787) 6% 9% 8%
Wave 2
Male (n=604) 16% 21% 20%
Female (n=591) 4% 16% 6%
Wave 3
Male (n=582) 19% 19% 18%
Female (n=568) 7% 10% 4%

As shown in the previous table, biological sex differences were most apparent for magazines, although boys were more likely than girls to report seeing X-rated material in all three types of media queried. Indeed, about 1 of every 4 boys reported seeing X-rated content in magazines in the past 12 months, whereas less than 1 of every 10 girls reported this.

Violent X-rated material:

Exposure to violent X-rated material was relatively uncommon among those who reported exposure to X-rated material generally.

Youth who reported exposure to X-rated material on websites (NWave1 = 137; NWave2 = 135; NWave3 = 146), movies (NWave1 = 149; NWave2 = 209; NWave3 = 158), or magazines (NWave1 = 180; NWave2 = 157; NWave3 = 135) were next asked if they had seen X-rated material that showed a person being physically hurt by another person while they were doing something sexual.


Of the youth who saw X-rated material in the past 12 months, violent X-rated content was most commonly seen in movies. Wide variation in rates of exposure to violent X-rated material across Wave is likely due to the small number of youth who were asked the question.

Frequency of exposure in past 12 months 4 Type of media showing violent X-rated material
Websites(n=146) Movies(n=30) Magazines(n=11)
Every day/ almost every day 1% 1% 3%
Once or twice a week 3% 10% 22%
Once or twice a month 9% 26% 18%
Less often than once a month 87% 63% 56%

The majority of youth who saw violent X-rated material reported seeing it infrequently.  Nonetheless, about 40% of youth who saw violent X-rated material in magazines or movies reported looking at it monthly or more often in Waves 2 and 3.  Notably and contrary to expectations perhaps, exposure to violent X-rated material was no more likely to happen online than in movies or magazines (although it should be noted that website exposure was queried in a different part of the survey than movies and magazines).

Exposure to Other Types of Sexual Mediaα:

At Wave 3, youth were asked about exposures in the last 12 months to media that showed people kissing, fondling, or having sex.  Four types of media were queried:

  • TV or movies
  • Music
  • Video, computer, or Internet games
  • Websites (either with real people or cartoons)

Of the media that youth were exposed to in the past 12 months, TV shows or movies had the most sexual content.

Amount of exposure in past 12 months Type of media showing sexual content (n=1,150)
TV shows or movies Video, computer, & Internet games Websites showing real people Websites showing cartoons Music / songs
Almost all/ all of them 4% <1% 1% <1% 3%
Many of them 12% 1% 2% 1% 13%
Some of them 53% 13% 19% 12% 48%
Almost none/ none of them 31% 85% 78% 86% 36%

Sixty-nine percent of youth reported at least some of the content they consumed in television or movies was sexual in nature, as did 64% about the music they listened to.  On the other hand, only 14-22% of youth said that at least some of the games or websites they visited had sexual content.αThese questions were asked only at Wave 3.


It is often assumed that the Internet is responsible for youths’ exposure to deviant content (e.g., violence, sex). Our data suggest however, that about 90% of youth are not exposed to X-rated or “adult” websites where the main topic is sex (although rates vary by age).  Moreover, 85% of youth are not exposed to violent content online. Instead, youth are more likely to consume violent material on TV or in movies, or in video games; and to be exposed to sexual content on TV or in movies, or in music songs.  Although parents should be aware about what their youth are doing online, it is equally if not more important for parents to be aware of, and perhaps concerned about, the content that their youth are exposed to on other media types, especially TV.  One simple step in potentially reducing youth exposure to violent or sexual content would be to increase parents’ familiarity with rating systems for all types of media such as TV ( and Internet and computer games (  This information could empower caregivers to make sure youth are playing age-appropriate games (e.g., video game rated as Teen (T) is intended for ages 13 or older).

Youth who have been to violent websites most commonly learned about the sites from their friends. Additionally, youth commonly learned about sites by typing a website address to see what came up. Exposures are not just a function of having access to a computer, but also can be influenced by peers.  As such, reducing youth exposure to violent content online requires a multi-faceted approach. In addition to having blocking software installed on home computers, it is important for parents to be aware of their children’s activities when they are with friends and to have clear guidelines of appropriate and inappropriate content regardless of media type.


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2. Roberts DF, Foehr UG, Rideout V. Generation M: Media in the lives of 8-18 year olds. Menlo Park, CA: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation;2005.

3. Wilson B, Kunkel D, Linz D, et al. Violence in television programming overall: University of California, Santa Barbara study. In: Seawall M, ed. National television violence study. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; 1998:3-184.

4. Bushman B, Huesmann L. Effects of televised violence on aggression. In: Singer D, Singer J, eds. Handbook of Children and the Media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; 2001:223-268.

5. Strasburger V, Wilson B. Media violence. Children, Adolescents & the Media. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications; 2002:73-116.

6. Potter W. On Media Miolence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; 1999.

7. Anderson CA, Bushman BJ. Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial Behavior: A meta-analytic review of the scientific literature. Psychological Science. 2001;12(5):353-359.

8. Gentile DA, Anderson CA. Violent video games: The newest media violence hazard. Media violence and children: A complete guide for parents and professionals. Westport, CT US: Praeger Publishers/Greenwood Publishing Group; 2003:131-152.

9. Kaiser Family Foundation. Children and Video Games. Menlo Park, CA: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation;2002.

10.  Huesmann LR, Eron LD. Television and the aggressive child: A cross-national comparison. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence ErIbaum; 1986.

11. Huesmann LR, Moise-Titus J, Podolski C-L, Eron LD. Longitudinal relations between children’s exposure to TV violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood: 1977-1992. Developmental Psychology. 2003;39(2):201-221.

12. Finkelhor D, Mitchell KJ, Wolak J. Online victimization: A report on the nation’s youth. Alexandria, VA: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children; 2000.

13. Vega V, Malamuth NM. Predicting sexual aggression: the role of pornography in the context of general and specific risk factors. Aggressive Behavior. 2007;33(2):104-117.

14. Carroll JS, Padilla-Walker LM, Nelson LJ, Olson CD, Barry CM, Madsen SD. Generation XXX: Pornography acceptance and use among emerging adults. Journal of Adolescent Research. 2008;23(1):6-30.

15. Williams KM, Cooper BS, Howell TM, Yuille JC, Paulhus DL. Inferring Sexually Deviant Behavior From Corresponding Fantasies: The Role of Personality and Pornography Consumption Criminal Justice and Behavior: An International Journal 2009;36(2):198-222.

16.Malamuth NM, Addison T, Koss M. Pornography and sexual aggression: Are there reliable effects and can we understand them? Annual Review of Sexual Research. 2000;11:26-91.

17. Donnerstein E, Linz D. Mass media sexual violence and male viewers: Current theory and research. American Behavioral Scientist. 1986;29(5):601-618.

18. Linz D, Donnerstein E, Penrod S. The effects of multiple exposures to filmed violence against women. Journal of Communication. 1984;34(3):130-147.

19.  Demare D, Briere J, Lips H. Violent pornography and self-reported likelihood of sexual aggression. Journal of Research in Personality. 1988;22(2):140-153..

20.  Ybarra ML, Mitchell KJ, Hamburger M, Diener-West M, Leaf PJ. X-rated material and perpetration of sexually aggressive behavior among children and adolescents: Is there a link? Aggressive Behavior. 2011;37(1):1-18.

Other Bulletins in this Series:

  • Methodological Details
  • Media Use Patterns
  • Parent and Youth Reported Household Rules Characteristics
  • Youth Violence Victimization and Perpetration
  • Mental Health and Psychosocial Indicators

Selection of Other Publications:
Ybarra M, Diener-West M, Markow D, Leaf P, Hamburger M, Boxer P. Linkages between Internet and other media violence with seriously violent behavior by youth. Pediatrics. 2008;122(5):929-937.Ybarra ML, Mitchell KJ,

Hamburger M, Diener-West M, Leaf PJ. X-rated material and perpetration of sexually aggressive behavior among children and adolescents: Is there a link? Aggress Behav. 2011;37(1):1-18.

The GuwM Study was funded by a Cooperative Agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U49/CE000206; PI: Ybarra).  Points of view or opinions in this bulletin are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of policies of the Centers for Disease Control.We would like to thank the entire Growing up with Media Study team: Internet Solutions for Kids, Harris Interactive, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the CDC, who contributed to the planning and implementation of the study.  Finally, we thank the families for their time and willingness to participate in this study.

This bulletin was prepared jointly by (in alphabetical order): Dr. Josephine Korchmaros, Ms. Elise Lopez, Dr. Kimberly Mitchell, Ms. Tonya Prescott, and Dr. Michele Ybarra.

Suggested citation: Center for Innovative Public Health Research (CiPHR). Growing up with Media: Exposure to Violence and Sex in Media. San Clemente, CA: CiPHR.

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