University of Leicester
2010AL-SAYEDPhD.pdf (4.09 MB)

Sex and Sexuality: A Content Analysis of Soap Operas on British Television

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posted on 2011-06-01, 12:24 authored by Rami Al-Sayed
Over the last decade soap operas shown on British television have been constantly facing severe criticism from the public, politicians and the press for allegedly containing ‘too much sex’; and in the context of rising teenage pregnancies and the spread of STDs and HIV in the UK, concerns over the role of television’s sexual content in general, and that of soap operas’ in particular, in potentially influencing young people’s perception, attitudes and behviours are most accentuated. The overall objective of this study is to comprehensively identify and analyse, using the method of content analysis, the amount, frequency, type, nature and contexts of sexual activity portrayed across a four-week sample of British and Australian soap operas shown on the UK‘s five main terrestrial channels: the sample analysed include the three most popular British soap operas, Coronation Street (ITV), EastEnders (BBC One), and Emmerdale (ITV), the UK‘s soap operas most popular with teenagers, Hollyoaks (Channel 4) and its late night spin-off Hollyoaks in the City (Channel 4), and the two day-time Australian soap operas, Neighbours (BBC One) and Home and Away (Channel Five). The study also provides a comprehensive quantitative analysis of, first, some of the important thematic aspects and contextual elements of soap operas‘ portrayal of sex and sexuality, such as themes of sexual intercourse and other behaviours, accompanying behaviours and outcomes of sexual activity, and, second, the attributes and general profiles of all characters involved in sexual activity. Furthermore, the study aims to identify whether or not soap operas contain safe-sex messages and any references to sexual Risks and Responsibilities (R & R) and provide a detailed analysis of soap operas‘ treatment of the various aspects of safe-sex and sexual risks and responsibilities. The main findings in this current research clearly indicate that day-time and prime-time soap operas: (a) contain relatively moderate amounts of sexual portrayals, compared with post-watershed serialised drama programmes and general TV programming, (b) rarely portray overt and explicit intimate sexual behaviours, (c) rely primarily on narrative devices in their portrayal of sex and sexuality, (d) place primary and substantial emphasis on sexual activity, and (e) dedicate substantial numbers of portrayals and storylines to highlight sexual risks and responsibilities and disseminate safe-sex messages. For instance, in some soap operas, Coronation Streets and EastEnders, around four out of every ten scenes with sexual content revolved around sexual Risks and Responsibilities.



Gunter, Barrie; Dickinson, Roger

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University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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