A Content Analysis of the Prevalence and Portrayal of Sexual Activity in Adolescent Literature


adolescents, sexual intercourse, adolescent sexuality, ideation, television programs, kissing, age, novels


Most research on sexual content in the media has focused on visual images such as those in TV, film, advertisements, and magazines. However, researchers have largely overlooked sexual content in novels. The popularity of novels and the potential for such literature to educate teens on sexual behaviors merits a closer examination into the sexual messages contained in popular adolescent literature. This study content analyzes the top 40 novels targeting adolescents. Results show that adolescent novels are replete with sex-related information, especially in novels targeted to girls. These sexual behaviors range from passionate kissing and romantic ideation to sexual intercourse. Over one third of the instances focus on references to sex, suggestive innuendos, or sexual descriptions; and an additional one third of sexual behavior involved sexual affection in the form of passionate kissing, intimate touching, and playful sexual behavior. Across the 40 books, there were 56 instances of sexual intercourse, most of which involved unmarried couples (94%); and many were in non-committal relationships. Moreover, sexual material rarely dealt with issues of abstinence, safe sex practices, and the health risks associated with sex.

Original Publication Citation

Mark Callister, Sarah M. Coyne, Lesa A. Stern, Laura Stockdale, Malinda J. Miller & Brian M. Wells (2012) A Content Analysis of the Prevalence and Portrayal of Sexual Activity in Adolescent Literature, The Journal of Sex Research, 49:5, 477-486.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



The Journal of Sex Research




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor