“Teenage boys exposed to pro-cannabis ads and social media posts are more likely to associate marijuana use with improving sexual activity than their female peers, according to new research from Washington State University.”
Teenage boys exposed to pro-cannabis ads and social media posts are more likely to associate marijuana use with improving sexual activity than their female peers, according to new research from Washington State University.
Researchers found that adolescent males expected marijuana users to be less inhibited and to enjoy sex more, leading them to express interest in using marijuana in the future. However, adolescent girls and young women have less influence on future cannabis use because of these messages and perceived connections.
“The messages adolescents and young adults are seeing are part of what is having impact, the type of appeal and the content, not just the fact that young people are seeing these messages on social media,” said Jessica Fitts Willoughby, lead author on the study and an associate professor with the Murrow College of Communication. “Messages matter.”
In addition to the perceived connections between marijuana and sex, the findings show the impact of advertising and social media content that portrays marijuana in a positive light on adolescents as well as young adults, she explained.
Stacey J.T. Hust, an associate professor with the Murrow College of Communication and a co-author of the study, said that additional dialogue between parents and their children, as well as more critical viewing of content, may be necessary to curb the influence of pro-marijuana messages on viewer perceptions.
“The next step is to identify how advertisements affect people as it relates to sex-related marijuana expectancies as well as the intent for use before and after sex,” Hust said.
The researchers of the WSU team surveyed two groups as part of the study, more than 300 15-17 year olds and nearly 1,000 college-aged young adults. Each group was asked about their social media habits, their exposure to pro-marijuana content, whether in the form of advertisements or user-generated content, their perceived connection between sex and marijuana, and their intentions for future marijuana use. These young adults were also asked about their past use of marijuana, as it is legal in Washington State for anyone over the age of 21 to consume marijuana.
Regardless of age or gender, researchers found that participants who saw more pro-marijuana content on social media had greater intent to use cannabis in the future.
Regulating what young people see on social media is difficult, researchers say, because much of the content is posted by users, and even content from marijuana businesses is often not portrayed in the same way as traditional advertising.
The authors argue that these findings suggest that more sophisticated regulations may be needed around the content of marijuana advertisements, not just the placement. Hust notes that regulatory guidelines for the alcohol industry suggest that messages should not directly link their products to sexual activity, as an example of what may be needed for marijuana advertising.
Expectations around marijuana and sex were not associated with either college-aged men’s or women’s plans for future marijuana use. The study did not determine why college-aged men did not influence teenage boys in the same way, but the authors said one possibility is that it could be by the fact that young college-aged men typically have more sexual experiences as a means of forming their views on sex and marijuana.
Exposure to pro-marijuana content on social media does not have the same connection to sex for girls and women. However, marijuana content that was perceived as positive was still associated with intentions to increase cannabis use. The authors said that the lack of findings related to cannabis and sexual expectations among girls and women may also be related to concerns about sexual agency.
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