One of the most apparent forms of sexual content seemed to be kissing. There are short modest kisses and long passionate ones between characters. I noticed that kissing occurred most frequently between couples who were either involved in an established romantic relationship or who were making the transition from friendship to a romantic relationship. A 1994 study by Greenberg and Woods looked at ten hours of each of the five soaps and found that of the 333 acts studied, 225 were verbal references, with no visual counterpart. This article titled, “The Soaps: Their Sex, Gratifications, and Outcomes,” by Greenberg and Woods, said that, this is true of all types of sexual activity except kisses, which were shown 57 times in their sample (1.1 times per hour). Kissing was never discussed, but the visual depictions say it all. The talk about sexual intercourse seemed to occur between characters that were not sexually or romantically involved. The contexts of these discussions were more likely to be between friends, co-workers, or family members than between romantic partners.
When visual depiction of sexual intercourse occurred, it was usually shown within the context of a committed relationship. This visual depiction is less frequent than kissing, for example, and nude people are not shown. The way that they get their message across to the audience is by offering a perspective to the viewer, making it clear that the characters were nude. This generally meant that a character’s back and legs were exposed from under the covers, bare shoulders emerged from a swimming pool, or depictions of a negligee or boxers fell to the floor around bare legs. This type of sexual depiction often goes without the discussion of consequences (along with kissing, but that is relatively harmless). In their studies, Greenberg and Woods looked for specific references to safe sex and/or contraception. They found only five references that occurred in three of the 50 episodes studied. “Thus, sex on soaps occurred in the absence of specific references to safe sex or to contraception. AIDS was ignored, and no other sexually transmitted diseases were mentioned. Discussion about sex among teenagers seldom involved parents” (10). Although there is some discussion of sexual consequences on soaps, it may not be enough to counteract the effects of poor choices that the audience may make as a result.
There is the sexual content of rape portrayed within soap operas as well. This, as we all know, is not a positive attribute to sex and sexuality, but it is covered within this genre. About a decade ago on, General Hospital, there were two characters, Luke and Laura. The two of them were not close; in fact they barely knew each other. One evening Luke raped Laura and she was traumatized. As time went on, the two of them got to know one another and the traumatic event began to fade. Laura actually transformed the horrific rape encounter into a sexual or romantic encounter. In this instance, the soap is portraying a negative message to its audience and conveys the horrible thought that women want to be raped. This is obviously not true, but to younger audiences who do not understand their sexuality yet, they might be getting the wrong message. Recently there is less talk about date rape, and less instances of it portrayed in daytime television. Although this is true, it is still an issue that teenagers, especially, must be aware of. For this reason alone, I think that there should be more discussion about how to avoid date rape, and how to protect oneself from even getting into a situation where one could be raped.
In the soap operas All My Children, and Sunset Beach, there are sexual issues that revolve around teenage relationships. There were discussions about whether or not to wait before having sexual intercourse. In All My Children, the storyline was about a teen-aged birth mother suing the adoptive parents for custody of her child. This storyline allowed for several discussions about the consequences of unplanned and unprotected sexual activity, and about the importance of waiting until one is ready before engaging in sexual intercourse. Although soaps sometime discuss the consequences of sexual acts, there are too many episodes that let sex just happen without any real discussion of its consequences. For instance on the soap Sunset Beach, there is a character, Annie, who is about twenty five years old, who sleeps with everyone on the show who has something that she wants. She is very rich and extremely manipulative. Through her conversations with friends, the audience learns that, deep down, all she wants is to find true love. Obviously she will not achieve what she really wants by being so sexually promiscuous and amoral, but some audiences may think that you can get what you want by sleeping around. If there are all of these negative images and ideas portrayed throughout soap operas, then why is it so popular to women?
In a recent study done by Woods, he asked 100 high school girls about 23 possible reasons for watching soap operas. The top ten reasons were, “(a) I just enjoy watching them, (b) it gives me something to do, (c) soaps are fun, (d) they fill up time, (e) it’s a pleasant way to rest, (f) they relax me, (g) soaps are a habit, (h) I can forget about school, (i) I can get away from my family, (j) and soaps cheer me up.” It is apparent that these responses are what people might say for any television show. What attracts people to soap operas and the reasons behind them being fun and relaxing is because they deal with issues that happen in real life. Not everyone is going to get raped, or accidentally pregnant, but everyone should know that it can happen to them and they should be careful. It is interesting to think that maybe women are so attracted to soaps because it makes their lives seem more normal. Greenberg and Woods used a survey by the author Compesi to compare adult and adolescent results to similar questions on the reasons for watching soap operas. He mailed 52 surveys consisting of gratification items for the viewers of, All My Children. “…the findings for soaps and adolescent gratifications are a close match to those for soaps and adult gratifications.” Although people do change, I feel that the foundation of what draws people in and interests continues in one way or another throughout a person’s life.
It is not an unrealistic assumption that sexuality is exciting to watch and learn about, especially for curious young individuals. Recently the issue of homosexuality has been incorporated within soap operas. In All My Children, the teenaged character Bianca came out as a lesbian. Along with this came her struggles of being accepted and the ability to find a happy relationship. There were a few episodes dealing with Bianca’s romantic happiness and with the fact that she had a crush on a straight woman. There was one episode where Bianca asked Frankie, a homosexual female that she was friends with, if she was afraid that Bianca would make a move on her. Frankie insisted that she didn't feel uncomfortable with her and also assured Bianca that she didn't want her to give her more space and that she valued their budding friendship. When another character, Vanessa, arrived, she ordered Frankie to leave Pine Valley because she lied to her about her sexuality. She asked Frankie to move out, saying that Frankie should have been honest from the beginning. Alone, Bianca offered to help Frankie find another place, but Frankie rejected her. Bianca told Frankie that, as usual, someone she liked was pulling away from her. In this example it is apparent that it is rough on a person’s self-esteem to not be able to find love or a true friend because of ones sexuality or sexual preference. I would imagine that these episodes are not unrealistic in the life of a teenage lesbian, but I noticed that they did not portray a fulfilled life for one. The steamy love scenes are the norm for heterosexual couples, yet when it comes to homosexuals, they are rarely even allowed to touch. Every few scenes within an episode show two heterosexuals kissing, or being sexual with each other. When it comes to homosexuals, there is usually just discussion about the hardships that the person is enduring, and there are rarely any visual depictions of sexuality. Starting a few years ago was the first time that a lesbian kiss was even shown on daytime television. This issue of homosexuality is more open and talked about then it used to be, but they still do not seem to be portrayed the same as heterosexuals. Although gays are not represented accurately, watching them interact can desensitize some people that are uncomfortable dealing with those people who choose that lifestyle.
Soaps deal with the issue of pregnancy as well. Having a baby could be a happy and exciting thing for some people, but it seems like most of the pregnancies on soaps deal with the negatives of pregnancy, like teenage pregnancies, pregnancies due to rape and pregnancies with twisted stories to them. An example of this is from the soap Sunset Beach, where the character Vanessa, an engaged woman, was impregnated in vitro. Due to an accident she was unconscious and the woman who was jealous of her boyfriend gave her the injection. It was not the sperm of her fiancé, Michael, but a different male. Michael, who is now sterile, thinks that she is pregnant from him, but knows that he could not be the father. He thinks that she must have slept with another guy, and the saga continues. The is an exaggerated scenario, of course, but this type of situation allows for the audiences thoughts and discussion of safe sex and trust in ones partner. These are issues that every individual must deal with at one point or another, which may be another reason for the popularity of soap operas.
If I were to speculate on the potential effects of viewing such content, I would say that viewers are getting ample information about sexual activity that promotes the idea that sexual activity is appropriate and beneficial for heterosexual couples in established relationships. The issues of rape, teenage sex and pregnancy, single parenting, drug addiction, abortion, infidelity, and death are all issues in which characters have dealt with. This allows the audience to discuss these issues without talking about themselves, which can be uncomfortable. An individual’s morals and values about sex should stem from the home. It is the parents’ job to try and teach their children what sex and being a sexual person is all about. If these values are implemented, the young viewer should be able to decipher between what is right, what is wrong, and what is exaggerated.
There are a variety of reasons for women to be attracted to soap operas, and sexuality is definitely one of them. Being a woman is a very powerful thing, and many people do not understand that. Some women and teenagers may feel that power when watching a sexual encounter, knowing that they have the power to do the same thing (less dramatically of course). Sex and being sexual are intriguing concepts that are very mysterious to some. By watching soap operas, we see the dramatic portrayal of how relationships should and should not be. There is the right and wrong way to go about becoming sexually active. Soap operas are an excellent way to see and learn about all of the right and wrong ways of dealing with issues, especially ones that deal with sexual relationships. People are always looking for a way to improve their relationships or spice them up, and soap operas are an excellent way to either learn something new, or fanaticize about the perfect relationship. The fact that soap operas are so exaggerated, I feel, is the major draw to them because they make reality and everyday life seem more normal.
Greenberg, S.B, &Woods, M.G.(1999). The soaps: their sex, gratifications, and
outcomes. The Journal Of Sex Research, 36(3), 250.
Committee on Communications, American Academy of Pediatrics. (1995). Sexuality, contraception, and the media. Pediatrics, 95(2), 298.