Sexually charged music directly impacts teenage sexual habits, new study says

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Teen-agers who listen to sexually degrading music, including some forms of popular rap music, are more likely to be sexually active than are other teens, a new study says.

The study by RAND Corporation surveyed 1,461 adolescents ages 12 to 17 and followed them for three years, conducting interviews in 2001, 2002 and 2004. At each interval, they asked the teens about their music and sexual habits.

The teens who listened to sexually degrading music—by such artists as rappers Lil' Kim and Ja Rule—were "more likely … to initiate intercourse and other sexual activities," a RAND news release said. (The study included sample lyrics from Lil' Kim and Ja Rule that cannot be printed here.)

Although the study looked at all types of music—including hard rock, country and pop—it found that rap and rap-metal typically had the highest frequency of sexually degrading lyrics. The study found that the degrading lyrics negatively impacted both boys and girls, whites and non-whites.

Unlike music of decades past, the language in many of today's songs that is "used to describe sex has become increasingly direct," the study said.

"These portrayals objectify and degrade women in ways that are clear, but they do the same to men by depicting them as sex-driven studs," Steven Martino, a RAND psychologist who led the study, said in a statement. "Musicians who use this type of sexual imagery are communicating something very specific about what sexual roles are appropriate, and teen listeners may act on these messages."

Sexually degrading music and music videos, the study said, depict "sex-driven males competing with one another for females who are viewed as sexual objects" and whose "value is based on their physical appearance."

The RAND study confirms what Focus on the Family and other Christian conservatives have been saying "for years," said Bob Waliszewski, media specialist with Focus on the Family.

"I'm very, very happy that the RAND corporation did this study, because some people seem to just overlook the obvious," Waliszewski said. "And until there's a study out there, it just doesn't resonate."

The average teen listens to music 1.5 to 2.5 hours a day—not counting the time he or she may spend watching music videos, the study said. One-fourth of teens listen to more than three hours of music a day, it said.

Listening to degrading music can have a significant negative impact on teens, the study said. Girls, it said, may come to expect to be treated with disrespect by boys.

"If so, these expectations may have lasting effects on their relationship choices, a possibility that warrants further investigation," the study said. "Boys, on the other hand, may come to interpret reckless male sexual behavior as 'boys being boys' and dismiss girls' sexual preferences and desires as inconsequential."


Parental monitoring
The study suggested that parents "monitor the type of music to which their children are exposed." Waliszewski agreed, saying that too many parents believe they "don't have time to figure out what bands (their children) are into." Parents should have the "sex talk" but also should have the "entertainment talk," he added.

"This is a crucial issue, because (entertainment choices) lead to some of the bigger issues you're worried about," Waliszewski said. "You're concerned about the 'sex talk' … but do you realize that if you don't have the 'entertainment talk' you may dealing with the 'pregnancy talk'?"

The "very private world" of iPods has allowed teens to download and listen to music that they once may have avoided. With iPods, Waliszewski noted, there is no CD case lying around.

"Now, more and more, the young person is in the car, a foot away from their parents, and their parents … couldn't list two of the 120 songs on the iPod," he said.

Waliszewski, who once was the music reviewer for Focus and reviewed at least 800 CDs, said today's music is significantly more sexually degrading and suggestive than was the music that parents listened to when they were young.

Roughly 750,000 teens become pregnant each year and 4 million contract sexually transmitted diseases, according to federal statistics quoted in the RAND news release.

Two years ago RAND released a similar study showing that teens who watch television with sexual content are more likely to become sexually active.