media and love
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How the media meddle in our marriages

By Sarah Gehrke Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - 07:30
Want to marry a vampire? Feel like spicing up your sex life with chocolate sauce? You can now officially blame it on the media. Magazines and TV shows have a stronger influence on our expectations than we might like to admit, recent studies say.

Sex confidence

For example, reading women’s magazine Cosmopolitan (particularly its regular sex tips) made women more assertive when it comes to sex, according to a US study. It also made them place more emphasis on their own pleasure. However, they tended to think less about the possible risks of casual sex.

OK, Cosmo’s sex tips are often pretty silly and make you feel like you’re a bit boring if you don’t regularly involve lickable foodstuff and kinky games with cutlery or ice cube trays in your sexy times. So it’s good to know they can still have a positive impact on the way people think about sex even if they’re not necessarily used as a day-to-day manual.

Damaged by TV romance

What’s more worrying, perhaps, is what TV romance can do to your relationship. You’re less likely to commit to your own partner if you believe in the romantic relationships of TV series, according to another recent study of more than 390 married couples.

People that thought relationships on TV reflected real life often felt less committed to their partner because they thought they could have someone better than their current spouse, says the man behind study, Jeremy Osborn, professor in the Communication Studies department at Michigan’s Albion College. They also thought the ‘costs’ of their relationship – the things they didn’t like about their partner and about being in a relationship – were high.

“The most striking finding was the impact on commitment and the fact that the results were significant for married couples,” Osborn told Love Matters. “It is easy to think that you might see these types of findings for less committed relationships like college student dating relationships, but to see these results among middle-aged married people was pretty striking.”

Billionaire vampire?

“The fact that commitment was impacted is surprising and somewhat disturbing,” he adds. Especially considering that many of the popular TV series these days deal with the supernatural, the super-talented or the super-rich. Waiting around for a vampire, or for the almost-as-unreal handsome billionaire, does not seem like the best of ideas. (Also, it complicates matters further: do vampires even like chocolate sauce?)

Great expectations

And if it’s more of a full-blown Bollywood romance you’re after, it’s also important to keep your expectations in check and ask yourself whether you’re being realistic.

“I absolutely think it is important for people to be aware of this influence and to check their perceptions and expectations,” says Osborn. “I think the biggest thing I want is for people to simply be more self-aware and to be more savvy media consumers. When you think about the expectations you have for your spouse and the perceptions you have of other potential partners around you, how realistic are those ideas? Where did your expectations come from?”

Fact or fiction?

That doesn’t mean it’s always wrong to compare your relationship to those of others.

“If they came from looking at relationships around you and your own past experiences and you still find that your partner isn't cutting it, that’s fine,” says Osborn. “However, if you find that your expectations are primarily a result of fictional representations on TV that no person could ever really live up to, maybe you should make some adjustments.”

This influence on our ideas of love and sex reaches across all media. Bookworms might think they’re immune, but think again: Love Matters reported earlier that romance novels mess up women’s sex lives – women who read a lot of romantic fiction and expect real-life relationships to be just like in the books are heading for a broken heart.

Idealised

"It’s simply part of the human condition", says Osborn. “I think that we as humans naturally gravitate toward idealised images. We are hard-wired to seek out the most rewarding relationships and to get the most we can out of anything we do.

"I think there is a certain human tendency to look at idealised portrayals in the media and in art and to wish those portrayals reflected our lives.”

Do media-driven dreams affect your real-life romance? Leave a comment here or join the discussion on Facebook.

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