Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Do Degrading Lyrics Cause Teen Lust?

How could I have not blogged about this story from yesterday's Washington Post?
CHICAGO -- Teens whose iPods are full of music with raunchy, sexual lyrics start having sex sooner than those who prefer other songs, a study found.

Whether it's hip-hop, rap, pop or rock, much of popular music aimed at teens contains sexual overtones. Its influence on their behavior appears to depend on how the sex is portrayed, researchers found.

Songs depicting men as "sex-driven studs," women as sex objects and with explicit references to sex acts are more likely to trigger early sexual behavior than those where sexual references are more veiled and relationships appear more committed, the study found.

Teens who said they listened to lots of music with degrading sexual messages were almost twice as likely to start having intercourse or other sexual activities within the following two years as were teens who listened to little or no sexually degrading music.

Among heavy listeners, 51 percent started having sex within two years, versus 29 percent of those who said they listened to little or no sexually degrading music. Sexual Lyrics Prompt Teens to Have Sex

OK, this is ridiculous reporting, what my mother used to call "yellow journalism." Others would say "sensationalistic." It doesn't even describe the paper's results accurately. But don't worry -- we can read the original report in Pediatrics HERE

They administered three surveys to the same sample, one and three years after the first panel. The hypothesis was that reports of listening to music with degrading sexual lyrics at an earlier time would predict sexual behavior at a later time. They did find this effect, and interestingly it only worked for degrading sexual lyrics. Nondegrading sexual lyrics didn't predict anything.

The authors are pretty careful here:
Our results suggest that the relationship between exposure and behavior may be causal in nature, because we controlled for teens' previous sexual experience, as well as factors like parental monitoring, religiosity, and deviance; however, our correlational data do not allow us to make causal inferences with certainty.

They're right: their correlational data do not allow them to make causal inferences, with or without certainty. You can't do it, even in a panel design like this, even when you control for covariates.

Right after saying this, though, they barge ahead and speculate about what it would mean if there was a causal relationship.

See, they want to be able to say that degrading sex lyrics cause teens to engage in sexual behavior. But their results don't say that. An equally likely explanation is that the same kinds of teens who listen to degrading sexual lyrics also tend to have sex sooner. I mean, don't you wonder, who listens to that stupid stuff, anyway? It's not everybody, it's certain kids, and this study says those are the same kids who have sex.

And I'll tell you what. If they'd asked them if they drank alcohol or smoked weed or cussed or talked back to their parents or snuck out at night or ditched school or shoplifted ... they would have found they did those things, too. Because of degrading song lyrics? I doubt it. There have always been punk kids like that, and there always will be, lyrics or no lyrics.

The authors make an unbelievable leap in the Discussion section. After noting the flaws in their study they say:
These limitations notwithstanding, our findings suggest a need for intervention. Reducing the amount of degrading sexual content in popular music, or reducing young people's exposure to music with this type of content, could delay initiation of intercourse and related activities.

This is published in the journal Pediatrics, and I really wonder how this last paragraph got past the reviewers. They have not shown causation, they admit they have not shown causation, this kind of correlational study is universally known to have no ability to detect causation, yet here they are actually recommending censorship based on the "fact" that a certain kind of music causes teens to have sex!

Remember when Elvis came out? Well, actually, I don't either. But we know that the fuddy-duddies said this same stuff about that rock-n-roll music, which somehow did not turn all of us into hip--gyrating Satanists. And which sounds pretty tame today -- which makes you wonder what music is going to be like in another fifty years. Yikes. Sorry I'm gonna miss it.

I'm pretty disappointed in this paper, and in this journal for allowing these unjustified conclusions. The authors were careful in their research design, this was conducted seriously and dliberately and carefully. I'm pretty confident in their regression results, their weighting, and all of that. With some editing this paper could have been quite interesting enough. But their hypothesis was not carefully defined, and they went way beyond their data in explaining the results. This study did not test whether a certain kind of music caused teens to have sex, it only tested whether listening to a certain kind of music predicted sexual behavior. Big difference.


Blogger Theresa said...

Great point here Jim, and following on why the "other kids are doing it too" doesn't fly.

My daughter has had a number of close friends since grade school - one of whom I have been thinking about permanently severing ties with because of her behavior.

But, it was her 16th birthday, so I let her take a number of gradeschool friends to the beach, this child among them. Let's call this child Tanya (not her real name).

On the previous trip to the beach, one of her other friends had made a music CD for the ride. Knowing my tastes, she was careful. Let's call this child Sara.

Tanya, however, pops a CD in the player, and some song comes on with a "slap the ho" line in it which Tanya proceeds to sing at the top of her lungs. I hadn't heard the song before so I didn't know that lovely little line was coming.

Which of course the 2 ten year old boys in the car promptly start echoing. Great.
Thanks Tanya, and Tanya's mom, whom I blame more than Tanya. My daughter knows if she plays music like that she will promptly get grounded.

So it is up to parental control, and we all have to work together as a team to make sure kids believe in some sort of decency and what is and is not ok.

Boycotting inappropriate songs should be right up there on the list.

August 09, 2006 12:43 AM  
Anonymous David S. Fishback said...

It is nice to find common ground with Theresa. Parents should keep lyrics that degrade people away from their school age children. And, at appropriate points in their lives, we should explain why we do so. Even if such lyrics do not themselves lead to premature sexual activity, they do set a tone about sexuality that is brutal and negative, rather than beautiful -- and that certainly is a bad thing.

Jim is more qualified than I am to analyze the study itself, but it is interesting that the researchers found that lyrics that alluded to sex in a loving (as opposed to degrading) manner did not foster premature sexual activity.

August 09, 2006 6:10 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Two comments. First, "boycotting" ugly lyrics, as Theresa suggests, makes sense, and teens and their parents have every right to do so; what these authors suggest, a kind of official policy of not allowing certain kinds of lyrics, of controlling them as policy, is simply censorship -- a different thing altogether. Repressive policies won't work for this any more than they made people stop drinking alcohol during Prohibition, or any more than abstinence-only education results in abstinence.

Second, though there are lots of good reasons not to buy or listen to these CDs, the effect on teen sexual behavior has not been shown to be one of them.


August 09, 2006 6:49 AM  
Blogger Theresa said...

Tanya is by far the most promisicous of my daughter's friends.

That would seem consistent with the study.

Though whether she likes this song because it is consistent with her behavior or listening to this song contributed to her behavior ...
don't know.

August 09, 2006 8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JimK “controlling them as policy, is simply censorship -- a different thing altogether”.
This is the fundamental difference between are two camps. Censorship of Kids is part of the job of being a parent. What you fail to realize is that with today’s technologies it is almost impossible for parents to do this. And this is the underlining reason that rational people are willing to sacrifice some of the freedoms we enjoy. Not all freedoms, but like foul language. You would not say F*$k in front of a six year old, right. If you saw a ten year old with a Penthouse Mag. reading Form you would take it away. If a middle school kid is smoking or asks you to buy him or her a box so cigarettes than you would do something about it. Right? Not everyone does that. If they are willingly or through some profit motivation exposing children to these vices than what is a parent suppose to do? We cannot be there 24/7 and it would be stifling to the kids if we were. In some instances it does take a village.

August 09, 2006 1:58 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Censorship of Kids is part of the job of being a parent ...

Anon, this is a very good example of what I mean when I say I don't believe that the government should take over the role of the parent.


August 09, 2006 3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is not taking over the role of the parent that is what you are trying to do with your sex-ed program. it is assisting the parent. this is why we have a rating system on movies. so if you are not old enough to see an R rated film you cannot see one. but with the internet and alternitive media outlets it is getting harder to keep this stuff away from kids.

August 09, 2006 4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have to look at it this way. there are people who know that they can make monie selling things to kids. Drugs Guns Sex. Some parents are not or can not stop there kids from getting it. So they ask the goverment for help. You suport SS and welfair this is no different.

August 09, 2006 5:29 PM  

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