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Sex in music

Thursday, August 10, 2006

New York (Reuters): Music that depicts women as sex objects and men as insatiable studs may encourage some teenagers to become sexually active, according to a study of U.S. teens. While popular music, from rap to country, is full of sexual content, that depiction of sex varies widely. And in the new study, researchers found that the distinction between ''degrading'' and ''non-degrading'' sexual lyrics may make a difference in teenagers' behavior. Of the 1,461 adolescents aged 12 to 17 they followed, those who regularly listened to music with degrading lyrics at the start of the study were more likely to start having sex over the next two years. In contrast, there was no evidence that sexual yet non-degrading music swayed teenagers' behavior.

''We think this is an important distinction,'' lead study author Dr. Steven C. Martino told Reuters Health. It's not just a matter of music being sexually explicit, said Martino, a researcher at RAND Corp. in Pittsburgh. Songs can be sexual, even explicitly so, but portray sex in the context of a relationship, for example. Degrading lyrics, on the other hand, depict women as submissive sex objects or men as players on the prowl. And this seems to be the problem, according to the study findings, which were published this week in the journal Pediatrics.

''If I'm a 13-year-old boy, and I keep hearing that women are sex objects and men are players, then I might start to think that's a reasonable way for me to be,'' Martino said. Similarly, he noted, young girls, rather than being offended by the portrayal of women in these tunes, might get the message that it's normal for them to be treated disrespectfully. It's impossible to show that the music teens listen to directly causes them to have sex, Martino pointed out. But he and his colleagues did weigh a range of other factors that could have explained the relationship between degrading lyrics and teen sex -- like race, parents' education and teenagers' reported levels of parental supervision and religious conviction.

''This study provides a very strong basis to believe that the kinds of music kids listen to influences their sexual behavior,'' Martino said. Since it's probably impossible for parents to shield their kids from sexually degrading music, he recommended that they talk with their children about the subject -- which may help them to ''think critically'' about the lyrics they hear, rather than just accepting them. ''That way, they'll have their parents' views as filters,'' Martino said.

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