Popular Music Has Become More Sexual With Each Decade

This study examined sexual content in the lyrics of popular songs in the last year of every decade, beginning in 1959 to 2009. A total of 600 popular song lyrics from these six decades were analyzed. The results of this analysis showed that songs sung by male singers and non-white singers between 1999 and 2009 had more sexually explicit content. The authors believe that the findings of this study can be of help to sexuality educators who wish to “promote healthy adolescent sexual development.”

There are reports from various quarters that media influences children and teenagers to a large extent, since this age group tends to consume more information from these sources than any other. It is known that children aged between 8 and 18 years tend to use media in the form of music, television, video games and so on. Over the last few years, music has risen in popularity by 45 percent compared to a 16 percent increase in television. On average, a teenager spends around two to three hours listening to music every day. Several studies have shown that the development of sexual attitude among teenagers is influenced by media that includes television, magazines, music and video games. With the rise in teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, sexual health educators need to be aware of the influence of media on present day teenagers. This study analyzed the increasing sexualization of content in the lyrics of popular music that may or may not foster a healthy sexual attitude among teenagers.

* For this study, the researchers collected 600 songs from those listed in the “Billboard Hot 100,” during the last six decades. Songs of all genres spanning the period from 1959 to 2009 were included.
* The songs were individually analyzed by the principal investigator and an assistant.
* The analysts recorded the artist details (gender, ethnicity, solo or group) and also rated the songs based on references to sex or intimacy.

Key findings
* The results revealed that male singers were more likely to use overtly sexualized content. The odds ratio was noted to be 2.163.
* Similarly, non-white singers sang more songs with sexualized lyrics (odds ratio being 2.67). While the content of lyrics sung by white singers had more references to hugging and kissing, non-white singers referred more explicitly to sexual activities.
* Non-white singers from 1999 to 2009 also sang more songs with sexually degrading lyrics. In general, 2009 lyrics had more sexual content (odds ratio being 3.439).

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors agree that in this study, they have assessed the content of songs only at the end of each decade. They may have missed out a large number of other popular songs. They further add that this study did not take into account the covert and euphemistic references to sex. A more detailed analysis is thus warranted.

The authors of this study conclude that since children are spending more time listening to music and have less parental guidance on what they are listening to, an analysis of the sexual content of popular songs is necessary. It is important for sexual health educators to be aware of what type of content teenagers are being regularly exposed to, in order to foster better sexual health, attitudes and behavior. This study reveals that there is indeed an overwhelming sexualization of content in lyrics, especially in those sung by males and non-white singers. The authors suggest improvement in the ongoing efforts in sexuality education.

For More Information:
Sexualization in Lyrics of Popular Music from 1959 to 2009: Implications for Sexuality Educators
Publication Journal: Sexuality & Culture, September 2011
By P. Cougar Hall; Joshua H. West; Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah


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