By Amanda Paulson writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
When it comes to the sexuality of music, the battle between the old and young has raged for decades.
Blues was once "the devil's music." The Rolling Stones had to sing a sterilized "Let's Spend Some Time Together" to get radio play.
But, as always, the previous generations' complaints over musical tastefulness might now appear almost quaint. A new study poses serious questions about more recent music that isn't just sexual, but also degrading and misogynistic.
According to a study published Monday by the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan research group, teenagers who spent more time listening to music with lyrics that objectify women or praise men for their voracious sexual appetites were more likely to become sexually active earlier in their youth. Previous studies have linked sex at a young age with higher risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
It's the latest, and among the most rigorous, studies in a growing body of research that suggests media have a significant impact on young people's behavior - a claim that ignites controversy when coupled with calls for censorship or restrictions.
When it comes to counteracting a harmful message, communicating with teenagers about appropriate behavior, experts say, can be more useful than stopping the music.
"Kids are exposed to these sorts of messages not just in music but in culture in general," says Steven Martino, a RAND psychologist and lead researcher on the study. "It's better to have them be critical thinkers than have them just be sheltered teens."
Still, Dr. Martino says, the study left little doubt in his mind that the music's message has an effect.
He and other researchers surveyed 1,461 adolescents in 2001 about their sexual experiences and related factors. The researchers followed up with similar questions in 2002 and 2004.
Throughout the study, participants reported how often they were listening to 16 artists chosen by the study's authors based on their popularity. In every case - across racial and gender lines, and after accounting for factors like a heightened interest in sex or more permissive parents - increased exposure to sexually degrading lyrics (though not merely sexual ones) led to increased sexual activity.
Parents and psychologists have long worried about the harm not only of music, but also of TV, movies, and video games. After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, a few groups decried the violence depicted by rock singer Marilyn Manson's lyrics. Some went so far as to blame the singer for the attacks. More recently, the governor of Illinois tried unsuccessfully to ban sales of violent video games to minors.
Free-speech proponents have reacted angrily to suggestions of censorship, sometimes citing the fact that all individuals process information differently and can normally distinguish between what they're watching or listening to and their own behavior. …