Sex pro­pa­ganda and to­day’s pop mu­sic

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - L. BRENT BOZELL

Afew years ago, re­searchers at the Rand Corp. re­leased a study that found heavy ex­po­sure to sex­ual con­tent on TV shows re­lates strongly to teenagers’ ini­ti­a­tion of in­ter­course or their pro­gres­sion to more ad­vanced sex­ual ac­tiv­i­ties.

To some, those re­sults seemed so rea­son­able be­cause, well, aren’t they so ob­vi­ous? But there are al­ways those who won’t ac­cept the ob­vi­ous, even when it’s pre­sented for them on a sci­en­tif­i­cally doc­u­mented sil­ver tray. Crit­ics were quick to raise a chicken-and-egg ques­tion: Couldn’t it also be ar­gued that teenagers al­ready pre­dis­posed to sex­ual ac­tiv­ity have a predilec­tion for sex­ier TV shows?

In the sci­en­tific sense, it is cer­tainly pos­si­ble that cause and ef­fect may not be as sim­ple as “mon­key see, mon­key do.” But it’s odd that some ac­tivists can be­rate cor­po­ra­tions for tempt­ing chil­dren into eat­ing Twinkies and drink­ing sug­ary so­das, but then don’t see cor­po­ra­tions push­ing hy­per­sex­ual en­ter­tain­ment as tempt­ing the young into pre­ma­ture sex­ual ac­tiv­ity.

Now the Rand Corp. has a new study, pub­lished in the Au­gust is­sue of the jour­nal Pe­di­atrics, tak­ing on an­other ma­jor teenage in­flu­ence: their mu­sic. The same alarm­ing re­sults jump off the page. Ac­cord­ing to the study, based on in­ter­views with nearly 1,500 teens, those who said they lis­tened to sex­u­ally ex­plicit mu­sic were al­most twice as likely to start hav­ing sex within the fol­low­ing two years than those who lis­ten to lit­tle or none of that mu­sic. This holds true for boys and girls as well as for whites and non­whites, even af­ter ac­count­ing for a list of other per­sonal and so­cial fac­tors as­so­ci­ated with ado­les­cent sex­ual be­hav­ior.

Mu­sic is no small part of young­sters’ lives. Ado­les­cents typ­i­cally lis­ten to 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours of mu­sic per day, and that doesn’t in­clude the time they are ex­posed to mu­sic through mu­sic videos. The re­searchers were es­pe­cially con­cerned about sex­u­ally de­grad­ing mu­sic like the Fbombs and “ho” lyrics of the rap­pers.

“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,” said Steven Martino, the Rand psy­chol­o­gist who led the study. “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.”

Mr. Martino and his re­search team ac­knowl­edge some may ar­gue that teens don’t re­ally lis­ten to the lyrics, or that lis­ten­ing to mu­sic is a pas­sive and sec­ondary ac­tiv­ity for youth. But they also in­sist the sex­ual ref­er­ences in many pop­u­lar songs may be dif­fi­cult for them to ig­nore, be­cause the lan­guage used to de­scribe sex has be­come in­creas­ingly di­rect. They sug­gest a taste of the rap “artist” Lil’ Kim: “When it comes to sex don’t test my skills, ‘cause my head game will have you head over heels. Guys wanna wife me and give me the ring. I’ll do it any­where, any­how, I’m down for any­thing.” They can then ar­gue per­sua­sively, “The in­ter­est in sex ex­pressed in th­ese lyrics is un­likely to be lost on many teens.”

Peo­ple who want to make ex­cuses for the mu­sic in­dus­try also ar­gue sex­ual lyrics are noth­ing new in pop­u­lar mu­sic, from “I Can’t Get No Sat­is­fac­tion” by the Rolling Stones to any num­ber of songs that dis­cuss “mak­ing love.” But much late 20th cen­tury mu­sic that played on the ra­dio had a layer or two of eu­phemism or dou­ble en­ten­dre. It might have gone over the heads of grade-school­ers rid­ing along in the car. That’s not true now. It’s just the op­po­site to­day. The lyrics are as bla­tant as can be and are mar­keted di­rectly to young teenagers through the likes of MTV.

The Rand study also noted a re­cent anal­y­sis of the con­tent of TV shows, movies, mag­a­zines, news­pa­pers and mu­sic pop­u­lar among teens demon­strated that sex­ual con­tent is much more preva­lent in pop­u­lar mu­sic lyrics than in any other medium.

David Walsh at the Na­tional In­sti­tute on Me­dia and the Fam­ily ar­gues that what mu­sic does is am­plify. When we hear a pa­tri­otic tune, we feel more pa­tri­otic. When we hear a ro­man­tic tune, we feel ro­man­tic. When they hear a very sex­u­ally arous­ing tune, is it any sur­prise that teenagers feel more sex­u­ally aroused and are more likely to act on it?

It’s also un­sur­pris­ing to note the best an­ti­dote to this on­slaught is parental in­volve­ment. Par­ents need ac­tively mon­i­tor­ing chil­dren’s me­dia diet and have frank con­ver­sa­tions about what sex is and what it should not be. Sadly, only 19 per­cent of Amer­i­can teenagers re­port they have good com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a trusted adult about sex. It’s sad to think that the other 81 per­cent might be get­ting their sex ed­u­ca­tion and so­cial cues from filthy rap­pers and mu­sic videos, and the “pimp­ing” cor­po­ra­tions that profit from them.

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