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Last updated on April 21, 2014 at 8:43 EDT

Teens: Music, Sexual Behavior Linked

March 5, 2009

Are teens influenced by the lyrical content of the music they listen to? A team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has reported findings that suggest that they may.

The researchers analyzed songs from the US Billboard chart of top songs. Songs were graded according to the amount of sexually aggressive lyrical content from least to most sexually degrading.

They surveyed 711 fifteen and sixteen year old high school students about what they were currently listening to as well as their sexual behavior.

They noted that the rate of students who admitted to having intercourse was less among students who listened to music containing the least amount of sexually explicit lyrics.

Students who listened to music with sexually degrading lyrics were noted to have a 44.6 percent rate of sexual intercourse compared to 20.6 percent among those least exposed to songs with explicit lyrics.

The overall intercourse rate among participants was 31 percent, researchers said.

“These lyrics frequently portray aggressive males subduing submissive females, which may lead adolescents to incorporate this ‘script’ for sexual experience into their world view,” Brian Primack, the study’s lead author, told AFP.

Social factors, educational attainment and ethnicity were also taken into consideration.

According to AFP, “Non-degrading” lyrics described sex in a non-specific way and as a mutually consensual act, while “degrading” lyrics described sexual acts as a purely physical, graphic and dominant act.

“Lyrics describing degrading sex tend to portray sex as expected, direct and uncomplicated,” researchers wrote in the study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“Such descriptions may offer scripts that adolescents feel compelled to play out, whether they are cast in the role of either the female or the male partner.”

Lyrical content’s impact on the lifestyle of teens has been a hot issue among parents and legislators in the past.

In 2000, Steven Martino, a behavioral scientist with the Rand Corporation, authored a study that also showed a similar link between music and sexual activity.

“The need [is] for parents to be aware so that they can place limits and criticize and understand what their children are listening to,” said Martino.

In 1985, Tipper Gore, wife of Senator and Vice President Al Gore, formed the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) alongside three other women to investigate the impact of explicit lyrical content of music.

The committee was formed after Gore and her daughter Karenna heard Prince’s song “Darling Nikki,” which was featured on the soundtrack to the film Purple Rain. The song contains references to sex and masturbation.

The PMRC petitioned the RIAA to develop a rating system for music in similar fashion to the MPAA film rating system. Their suggestions eventually led to the printing of explicit content warnings on album covers.

Raymond MacDonald, a specialist in music psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, told AFP that the issue is “a perennial debate that cropped up with artists like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Sex Pistols and Elvis Presley before that.”

“Do we really need a solution to the problem?”, he asked, adding that “even if every generation rehashes the discussion differently, there’s an important difference today: age lines have blurred and now everyone is listening to everything.”

“Maybe we should do a study to see if the music has as a bad influence on grandparents,” he stated.

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