February 24, 2009
New research suggests that significant exposure to music with sexually degrading lyrics is associated with higher levels of sexual activity in teens.
"Music exposure is growing, there is now unprecedented access to music and it's also becoming more direct, more explicit," explained Dr. Brian Primack of the Center for Research on Health Care at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "Adolescents are exposed to six to eight hours of mass media messages per day, and since it is such an important exposure, we need to know if this is affecting health."
Primack and colleagues studied ninth graders at three large urban high schools in lower-income areas around Pittsburgh. "We divided the cohort into three: those who were exposed to the lowest amount [of music with degrading references], those who were exposed to sort of the medium amount, those who were exposed to the most," he said.
Those students who reported the most exposure were more than twice as likely to have had sexual intercourse, even after the researchers controlled for other factors that may have been related to initiation of sex.
Primack cautioned the study's findings were limited by the fact that the teens self-reported their music habits. "We didn't actually have their iPods in our hands, but what we did was we asked people to report the number of hours that they listen, both on a weekday and a weekend day," he said.
"It's an approximation because we can't ask them every single song that they've ever listened to, but the way it is with young people in this particular demographic, their favorite artist is generally quite representative of all of the things that they listen to," Primack said.
Jane Brown, a professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said the study's findings corroborate several others. Parents need to become more involved and help their teens select healthier, less degrading music, she urged. "Secondly, I would like to see the musicians' community take some responsibility for this."
"And thirdly," said Brown, "we can teach what we call media literacy, which is to help kids be more critical media users, or more intelligent media users, so that they know it's not in their best interest to be modeling sexually degrading images."
The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.