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
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
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
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. …