by Pam Vogel
In the 1950s, parents around the world were weary of the dirty rock music invading the airwaves. They were concerned that the vulgar lyrics – yes, Elvis was considered vulgar – would inspire their children to grow into sex-crazed juvenile delinquents. As a nation, we have since developed a much higher tolerance for questionable artistic expression in pop music and now scoff at the modest social norms of the previous century, but new research suggests Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham from Happy Days may have been onto something, after all.
In a world where teenagers and adolescents are becoming sexualized beings at increasingly younger ages, it is important to understand the different sources for such a socially significant change. A February 2009 study from the University of Pittsburgh shows a strong correlation between listening to music with sexually degrading lyrics and sexual activity in teenagers. Ninth grade students that reported listening to over 14 hours of music per week containing degrading lyrics – the group with the highest exposure – were more than twice as likely to engage in sexual activity than their presumably more innocent counterparts were. While the contemporary lyrics students were exposed to were obviously more explicit than the lyrics of Jerry Lee Lewis, the results of this simple observational study indicate a much bigger correlation than one might think.
A more extensive study (Martino et al., 2006) indicates that routine exposure to contemporary popular music – of which 15% was determined to contain degrading lyrics – led to increased likelihood of initiating or progressing in levels of sexual activity among adolescents. The 2006 research also shows that these results are persistent despite the consideration of eighteen other factors that may contribute to sexualization. The study also distinguished between degradingly sexual lyrics and otherwise sexual lyrics, stating that the degrading nature was the cause of increased sexual behavior, whereas sexual lyrics that were not inadvertently offensive had little or no effect on young listeners. (more…)