March 4, 2009

Do sexually "degrading" song lyrics lure teenagers into bad sex?

I'm trying to read this somewhat abysmal article that Drudge is linking.
In an unusual piece of research, investigators at the University of Pittsburgh graded the sexual aggressiveness of lyrics, using songs by popular artists on the US Billboard chart. The lyrics were graded from the least to the most sexually degrading. They then asked 711 students aged 15 to 16 at three local high schools about their music preferences and their sexual behaviour.

Overall, 31 percent of the teens had had intercourse. But the rate was only 20.6 percent among those who had been least exposed to sexually degrading lyrics but 44.6 percent among those highly exposed to the most degrading lyrics.

The study's lead author, Brian Primack, said music by itself was not the direct spark for sex but helped mould perception and was thus "likely to be a factor" in sexual development. "These lyrics frequently portray aggressive males subduing submissive females, which may lead adolescents to incorporate this 'script' for sexual experience into their world view"...

"Non-degrading" lyrics described sex in a non-specific way and as a mutually consensual act, while "degrading" lyrics described sexual acts as a purely physical, graphic and dominant act.
First, there is something strange about using the term "degrading" instead of the usual "graphic." I should think that people who listen to graphic lyrics are already interested in having sex and are not merely learning that sex is somehow mandatory and perfunctory. If you are inclined toward sex, graphic lyrics aren't degrading. And it's not right to classify any dominant sexual male as degrading the woman. That says more about the classifier than the lyricist!
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, lyrics by Prince on his album "Purple Rain" prompted wives of senior politicians in Washington, led by Tipper Gore, to set up the Parents Music Resource Center.
Oh, for the love of God, leave Prince alone. Now, of course, his lyrics were very sexy, and he did influence many of us women to want — and even have — more sex. But the song that upset Tipper so much was "Darling Nikki." Read the lyrics. Nikki was not an innocent, subordinate female degraded by a dominating Prince. Nikki was the dominant one, and if anybody was overcome or degraded, it was Prince. It was the dominant female that freaked out Tipper.

Anyway, if you have young kids, protect them from graphic song lyrics. That is your job. But don't lose your mind and start calling things degrading unless they really are. All sorts of song lyrics, including some of the most beautiful old standards, depict a relationship in which one person — usually the singer — is overwhelmed by and enslaved to his or her lover. It's ridiculous to get bent out of shape over that.

42 comments:

Henry said...

Anyway, if you have young kids, protect them graphic song lyrics.

Or read Shakespeare's sonnets, for that matter.

PatHMV said...

My suspicion would be that children with attentive, concerned parents, are both less likely to listen to sexually graphic music AND less likely to engage in sexual activity. Listening to "degrading" music is merely a correlative symptom resulting from parental inattention or unwillingness to impose rules, along with increased sexual activity and (most likely) drug use.

commenter said...

i was an attentive parent. I used to listen to degrading lyrics together with my 17 year old. He let me know what was out there. I remember the first time i heard the song ass & titties.

there are no guarantees and i think bad sex luring is about equal to good sex luring as poverty luring is to wealth luring. I don't know what improves odds in people's behaviours anymore. It's all just something to talk about. Probaly why i like to hide behind moderate sports. It's just doing anymore.

vet66 said...

In the "nosh pit" of teen sexuality, the shelf life of a teenaged girl swooning at the feet of her favorite singer of degrading lyrics is short.

I recently had this conversation with a young lady who was swooning over Eminem. I studied the lyrics then asked her to read them out loud to me. It was clear that the lyrics were disrespectful of females in the extreme. Sans musical accompaniment, the lyrics were a stark testament to objectifying females for sexual exploitation. I referred to Eminem as Enema which started the initial conversation.

I can see why Tipper Gore and her circle of friends fear Governor Palin. They have a visceral hatred of powerful women who accomplish things. Palin goes against their passive/aggressive method of controlling women and brainwashing men.

EDH said...

Ah, 1980s nostalgia: remember when Prince was the freak and Michael Jackson was the nice boy?

Chris said...

Gett Off!

Darcy said...

PatHMV: Yes!

Chris said...

How can I put this in a way so as not to offend or unnerve.

L'esprit d'escalier. C'est la vie.

Palladian said...

I recall hating overt sexual content in song lyrics when I was a teenager. I thought it was boring and unimaginative. Of course since I am a homosexual and the sexual content of popular song lyrics only addresses the meeting of cock and pussy and titties, it's natural that I'd find discussion of such matters distasteful and boring.

commenter said...

of course, the more hiding you do behind moderate sports the better you look and the more likely some jack off is ready to jerkoff to a picture of you on the internet. Even at the age of 35 or 55.

MadisonMan said...

This study has Asst Professor trying to drum up name recognition written all over it.

Dupree said...

They then asked 711 students aged 15 to 16 at three local high schools about their music preferences and their sexual behaviour.

Overall, 31 percent of the teens had had intercourse. But the rate was only 20.6 percent among those who had been least exposed to sexually degrading lyrics but 44.6 percent among those highly exposed to the most degrading lyrics.


They seem to be missing something that is needed in a study. What was that called...Oh yeah, cause and effect.

Are the sexy lyrics leading to sexual activity or are sexually active teens more interested in sexy lyrics.

William said...

The fact that their parents disapprove of the music is part of what gives the music its cachet....I think the rock groups of the eighties worked way too hard in courting parental disapproval. Their outfits were uncomfortable and contrived. In their way, they were as much about advertising their caste as English colonists dressing for dinner in the tropics.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

I suggest that "degrading" refers to abusive behavior and to women putting up with it. This is different from "graphic" which is merely overly descriptive.

Having a daughter who has to share the planet with other people who are exposed to pop culture, I have always been much less worried about what she's listened to on the graphic side than the potential normalization of degrading-toward-women attitudes among men whose paths she might cross.

BJM said...

Sex and R&R? I'm shocked, shocked I tell you, what next a study linking drugs and R&R?

Hell, even Grannie was tappin' a toe to explicit songs back in the day.

MM hit the nail on the head. I hope taxpayers didn't fund this statement of the farging obvious: teens experiment.

Schorsch said...

It's darling that you're sheltered enough to think that "sexual dominance" in song lyrics is as bad as it gets. In a sub/dom relationship, both enjoy their roles. Popular songs lyrics frequently opine that a female exists to please the male, however degrading his desires are, and the female must go along not because she likes it that way, but because she's a worthless bitch/ho/skank.

traditionalguy said...

Sexual lyrics are Popular Music's business model. Teenagers always want some way to skirt the No Sex rules. The line has been blurred in the past 15 years by a Cult of the Domination of sex-slave girls.The use of lust as a transforming sacrement for the 16 to 18 year old is OK as a risky show off conduct. But when dangerous sex becomes a required part of the youth culture, the reaction of level headed boys is to avoid sexual relationships for fear of getting stuck with a dangerous life partner.The talk is all still there, but there has been a chilling effect on formation of traditional men-guard-their-women relationships.These are lonely times for a boy to grow up in.

Marauder said...

"And it's not right to classify any dominant sexual male as degrading the woman. That says more about the classifier than the lyricist!"

I had that thought just before I read this part. They should have been a lot more clear about what precisely they thought was degrading and not grouped the merely dominant with the outright creepy.

Synova said...

No one in this house listens to rap, so... no "bitches."

But if and when the radio is on in the car it's on a Rock station, which means Corn and Nine Inch Nails and Flyleaf and various screaming sorts pretending to sing and that wonderful "Mercenaries" song and a couple versions of "don't kill yourself" or "it sucks to be medicated."

There really isn't that much about sex or dominance compared to "pop" and "love songs". I won't say that the messages are *good* ones, but one advantage of over-the-top lyrics is that they are obviously meant to be over-the-top.

IMO, more damage is done by relationship lyrics than the harsher stuff because they reinforce a subtext of emotional neediness. I won't speak for boys, but girls don't put up with the bad stuff because they think that the bad stuff is good, they put up with it because they are terrified that if they *don't* that they will end up single during their 9th grade year.

sonicfrog said...

A. I can't believe someone is still shilling for the hypodermic theory when it comes to media. I mean, can't we finally put to bed the notion that watching violence (like Bugs Bunny cartoons) or playing violent video games will directly affect the psyche of the average kid.

B. Everyone, raise your hands if you thought Tipper Gores efforts to eradicate naughty lyrics from the face of the Earth were genuine.

sonicfrog said...

A. I can't believe someone is still shilling for the hypodermic theory when it comes to media. I mean, can't we finally put to bed the notion that watching violence (like Bugs Bunny cartoons) or playing violent video games will directly affect the psyche of the average kid.

B. Everyone, raise your hands if you thought Tipper Gores efforts to eradicate naughty lyrics from the face of the Earth were genuine.

cardeblu said...

While neither "graphic" nor "degrading," imo, when I was a nubile teenage girl way back when, it never failed that Bad Company's Feel Like Makin' Love would play on the radio while riding in the car with my date. I love(d) the music and the lyrics but felt like there was no way in hell I could sing along with it and always felt like I had to turn to my date and say, "uhh...no."

AJ Lynch said...

There is no such thing as bad sex when you are a teen.

Modern Otter said...

Before sexually graphic lyrics came generations of mind-warpingly neurotic relationship lyrics that left marks that were in many ways worse and more widespread.

"I couldn't live without your love." comes to mind.

Synova said...

"Feel Like Makin' Love" is an excellent example. (We must be near the same age.) It's a great song, actually, musically.

It's certainly not graphic... "making love" is the classic euphemism for sex, isn't it? (Right up there with "rock and roll.") And one wonders if teenagers listening to it then, had the "good" sort of sex?

Leland said...

I'm less concerned about the lyrics or the music than I am about the constant suggestion that 31% means "everybody is doing it".

Synova said...

...neurotic relationship lyrics...

Yes.

Same with romance novels.

I don't think that sex comes without consequences, but I often think that the novels, today, with sex in them are less harmful than the novels, when I was young, that ended in a kiss and marriage proposal. Modern romances have their neurosises, for certain, but the older "clean" ones often had both parties acting really terrible and hateful to each other and then they finally realize it's because they are in love.

Yikes.

1jpb said...

I agree w/ those who are noting that there is still the question of proving causality.

Anyway isn't "degrading" internet porn and ever increasing media titillation probably a bigger factor than lyrics. If we want to make up causalities this is where I would put my money.

For the record, is it degrading for young girls being "back doored" by their eager teen suitors? Seems like discussion of this kind of sex is a lot more common than it used to be. For example, did it seem like our newest Oscar winner may have received this service in one scene of the Reader? And, there are a lot more than just Howard Stern who love to discuss this topic in non-age-restricted media, never mind the barrier free internet.

Maybe I'm a prude, but ever since PBS (Frontline, I think) did a story about young girls being "sandwiched"--two guys w/ one girl w/ two holes (not incl mouth) in the middle--I've decided that something is influencing kids to be degrading. I'm putting my money on porn and the profit motive of titillation in the mainstream media rather than worrying about song lyrics, but I suppose that it all works together.

And, who knows, maybe kids have always been sandwiching and the rest at the same rates as they do toady, presumably in the past the media didn't search for and prominently highlight such activities (but I don't really have data.)

Also, I will never know why those girls' parents let PBS show their daughters talking about this stuff on TV--even for unassociated viewers it was extremely cringeworthy and horrible to watch. And, PBS covered all the diseases too. I suppose the folks involved probably wanted to scare kids away from this sort of activity by showing what goes wrong. They must have broken through to some of the kids who saw this thing.

prairie wind said...

I don't think we're talking about "sexy" lyrics here. In fifth grade, my daughter's teacher played the radio as background noise. My daughter learned to like a number of rap songs--because this is a mainstream radio station, it wasn't the really bad rap, presumably. Just the rap that all the kids were listening to and dancing to. She wanted to download Solja Boy's Crank Dat for her iPod, so I read the lyrics. Then I let her read them and I talked about why I wouldn't let her pay money for that kind of music--because I won't reward someone who is pushing trash. After reading the lyrics, she looked a little green and she doesn't listen to rap anymore.

This crap is no "Afternoon Delight", and it is hard not to think boys and girls who listen to it are not degraded by it.

Xmas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xmas said...

I wonder what sort of questions they asked?

Hmm...

1jpb said...

I see that Prarie is providing an example. So, I'll do the same.

This Outcast clip, from the extremely well sold and very mainstream Stankonia album, has always seemed a bit degrading for young ears.

Roll my blunts thick, like I like my bitch
Lick my blunts and spit, like she do my dick
Attempted murder dick, for ways I choke chicks
Spit it in her eye make it hard to focus


Only Jocelyn Elders could more effectively express the joys of oral sex.

Revenant said...

Are the sexy lyrics leading to sexual activity or are sexually active teens more interested in sexy lyrics.

That's an easy one.

You can get a lot more research money, a lot more money speaking to concerned groups of citizens, and a lot more book sales if it's the first answer. So its the first answer.

Nobody ever bought a new car off the proceeds of a "horny people like stuff that talks about sex" theory, unless they were producing the stuff in question. :)

traditionalguy said...

The business model of popular music for the young and the restless will always be to talk about sex. The 1955 to 1965 era used code words, but we knew what rock and roll meant. The girls liked the love songs of a man loving a woman, and the boys just wanted to get it on. The new trend has the girls turned into slaves. The vulgarity is for shock effect. The master/slave relationship is at the heart of the music since 1995. Slavery is still the Best system devised by man...for the Master. The idea of equality is over the hill American Baby Boomer idealism.The sad result of this new culture is that the young men have to fake a slave master role from another culture, or just give up being popular. How can they trust slave women to stay in a committed Man Protects Woman and Children relationship, so they give up on it. Friends is as close as the young men now dare to come. Words chanted in group settings can create a ruling power that continues until a greater power drives it out.

reader_iam said...

I've had occasion to observe the hilarity experienced by youth when they read adults referencing shocking lyrics while either mispronouncing or misspelling the name of the group in questions.

Just a friendly observation (& note I dislike the music in question, myself) ... it's OutKast, not Outcast--and isn't Stankonia so, well, almost last century, anyway?

; ) : )

prairie wind said...

The fear of being exposed as an idiot who doesn't know how to spell OutKast or as an OLD PERSON (horror!) who is shocked by nasty lyrics--that fear probably keeps some parents from talking to their kids about the music. And maybe the fear of discovering in that conversation that your child really doesn't see what the big deal is with words like "ho"...

reader_iam said...

Yeah, Prairie Wind, you got the point all right: I'm afraid of discussing music and music lyrics with my kid. I'm also afraid of discussing language with him. I'm particularly afraid of making value judgments about both and sharing those value judgments with him.

You got me.

reader_iam said...

I AM old compared to my son, by the way. 'Twas ever so and 'twill ever be so, and we both know it.

LOL.

reader_iam said...

She's really upset with me again,
I didn't give her what she likes.
I don't know what to tell her,
Don't know what to say.
Everything got funky last night.

She was really bombed,
And I was really blown away,
Until I asked her what she wanted,
And this is what she had to say:
A pearl necklace.
She wanna pearl necklace.
She wanna pearl necklace.

She gets a charge out of bein' so weird,
Digs gettin' downright strange.
But I can keep a handle on anything,
Just this side of deranged.

She was gettin' bombed,
And I was gettin' blown away,
And she held it in her hand
And this is what she had to say:
A pearl necklace.
She wanna pearl necklace.
She wanna pearl necklace.

She's so cold, as pure as the driven slush.
And that's not jewelry she's talkin'about, [see notes]
It really don't cost that much.

She was gettin' bombed,
And I was gettin' blown away,
And she took it in her hand,
And this is what she had to say:
A pearl necklace.
She wanna pearl necklace.
She wanna pearl necklace.

prairie wind said...

reader_iam,

Your zinger for me made me laugh out loud. My post must not be clear; I am sorry it sounded as if I meant that you were afraid of discussions with your kids. That is not what I meant at all. If anything, I was thinking of a discussion I had last night with another couple of moms with an eighth grade girl listening in. We three moms were laughing about how "out of it" we feel when we hear lyrics of some of the popular music that our kids listen to. We have the certain knowledge that the nasty lyrics of today are worse than anything we remember from our teenage years. We also have crisp memories of our teenage years when it was easy to see that the adults just didn't "get it;" that they got all bothered about lyrics and music we thought was only funny or entertaining. ("Fun to dance to; I'd give it a seven.") We also know that an eighth grader is listening and we suspect that she is thinking we are getting all bothered about music that is just fun to dance to, no matter what the lyrics are.

So, I do wonder if some adults avoid those conversations with kids because to do so might expose us for the elders that we are. Maybe not; I dunno.

Apologies again for sounding as if I meant you in particular. How could you have thought I meant you, though, since you were the one who knows how to spell OutKast and I've never even heard of them?

prairie wind said...

So, I had to go out to the Urban Dictionary to look up "pearl necklace"...but at least I knew enough to wonder if it meant what I thought it did. It did.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

My daughter found an oldies station she liked and stuck with it. She did segue from Herman's Hermits, the Buckinghams, and the Association to Elton John, Eagle, and Queen. The boys that Traditionalguy speaks of need not fear her.