The portrayal of sex on television influences audiences’ sexual attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. As a result, it can be assumed that how lesbian, gay or bisexual characters are being televised is likely to shape audiences’ perception about them.
Bradley James Bond, associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of San Diego, Brandon Miller, assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Arizona, examined the depiction of sexual references on television with a specific focus on LGB characters and sexual consequences.
The authors analyzed 132 television episodes that contained at least one LGB character and at least one sexual reference. Examples of television series included Modern Family, Broad City, Shameless and Orange Is the New Black.
Results showed that LGB characters are being depicted in a similar fashion to heterosexual characters, a piece of evidence for the normalization of LGB sexualities on entertainment television programming.
But significant differences remain between heterosexual and LGB characters’ talk about LGB sexualities. Heterosexual characters were most likely to be engaged in dialogue coded as insults, jokes or mocking when talking about LGB sexualities. Charlie, a heterosexual male character on FX’s Anger Management, responded to a question about bus arrival times by saying, “Well, the straight bus gets here at 3 o’clock. The lesbian one gets her at 3:30. It takes a long time to load all of those golf clubs.”
LGB stereotypes framed as humor seem to remain a prevailing theme in narratives depicting heterosexual characters talking about LGB sexualities.
Sexual consequences occurred for 28 percent of all sexual references in the television programs. Negative consequences occurred for one in five sexual references inclusive of LGB characters. For example, Frank ended his relationship with Agustin on HBO’s Looking after he learned of Agustin’s escapades with a sex worker.
Positive consequences also existed for LGB characters. For example, Cam was granted approval from his boyfriend Mitch’s discerning father following a conversation in which Cam talks about the sexual prowess of older men in a flirtatious fashion on ABC’s Modern Family.
The authors said, “Although media are only one of many societal resources for sexual information, exposure to such content could have a negative influence on LGB viewers by highlighting the differences between heterosexual and LGB sexualities, degrading the latter.”
To read the full text of the study: https://bit.ly/2GKHQiV
Bond, B. J., Miller, B., & Aubrey, J. S. (2019). Sexual References and Consequences for Heterosexual, Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Characters on Television: A Comparison Content Analysis. Mass Communication and Society, 22(1), 72-95.