Study: teen music causes sex
August 8, 2006 12:00 AM   Subscribe

Sexy music study. A study based on telephone interviews of teenagers finds that sexy music causes sex. Explains the "construction" of the "impulse control center" in the brain. (Too bad they didn't link to a PET scan for greater science-y-ness.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter (59 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Or the alternate explanation that I find more plausible:

People who want to have sex are more likely to enjoy raunchy music than people who don't.

Of course that doesn't have the same scare-monger appeal as the implication that the music causes sex.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 12:14 AM on August 8, 2006

music causes sex? perhaps already-horny kids like listening to sexy music?

too bad they didn't use logic 101 for, y'know, slightly marginal science-y-ness.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:16 AM on August 8, 2006

I'm not so sure about this study. I have a boom box on my lawn, sitting in the center of a giant rope knoose, blasting Christina Aguilera's Dirty over & over on a loop, and the several young women I've captured over the years are more frightened than horny, and seem to be more interested in escape than having a sexy good time.
posted by jonson at 12:20 AM on August 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

I couldn't believe this crap when I saw it on Page 3 of the Boston Globe this morning. Ridiculous. Obviously, Tacos are Pretty Great nailed it: teens who are more preoccupied with sex are more likely to have sex. Come on.
posted by Embryo at 12:21 AM on August 8, 2006

These asinine researchers are confusing correlation with causation. They are two entirely different things!

This reminds me of the study they did that found overweight people were depressed because, drum roll, they were overweight! No shit, sherlock!
posted by paraxod at 12:33 AM on August 8, 2006

That Devil Music . . .
posted by caddis at 12:46 AM on August 8, 2006

yup, sounds like bullshit: learn the diffrence between correlation & causation. Try actually changing the music kids listen to. I bet you'll find almost zero change, as changing a kids music won't change his/her friends.

And ditch this stupid cult of virginity bullshit, your teenager is better off learning about relationships while they've got too much spare time. At best, he/she will waist more valuble time learning about relationships. But most just continue acting like twits around the opposite sex & don't understand relationships.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:50 AM on August 8, 2006

It's good the kids aren't listening to the Pet Shop Boys or Erasure. They might catch the gay.
posted by felix betachat at 12:53 AM on August 8, 2006

Hey! Atleast five people beat me to the correlation vs. causation thing. I was pretty sure about it too, and then I remembered that kids are completely uninterested in anything sexual until the devil music tells them about it.

Jesus Christ. Further proof that "journalism" today simply tells people what they'd like to hear in order to feel more self-righteous.

This makes me hate CNN and researchers in general. But I'm pretty tired, so hopefully I'll specify it to these particular researchers by morning.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:56 AM on August 8, 2006

You know. At tonight's Gnarls Barkley show in Detroit, Cee-lo, dressed as a doctor (and referring to himself as "Dr. Feelgood") stated that one of the side effects of music is "casual sex."

Perhaps there's something to this...
posted by sparkletone at 1:08 AM on August 8, 2006

I knews it. Jeb, gets me my pitchfork and burning irons!
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:17 AM on August 8, 2006

It's about that time. That time for the Quiet Storm.
posted by furiousthought at 1:17 AM on August 8, 2006

An earlier study found that young folk who listened to popular music extensively were more likely to go for someone in a big way.
posted by pracowity at 2:33 AM on August 8, 2006

I know I've harped about this before, but do you really think that the entire scientific community missed the whole correlation/causation thing and that the population of Metafilter (and/or the whole internet) is the only group of people who have picked up on this? And no one else noticed?

(I sound very old lately.)
posted by blacklite at 3:10 AM on August 8, 2006

Haven't clicked the link yet -- my own idea of "sexy music" runs more to Sinatra anyway -- but I gather this is a "study" approximately to the same degree that a barroom discussion is a "seminar"?
posted by pax digita at 3:14 AM on August 8, 2006

but do you really think that the entire scientific community missed the whole correlation/causation thing...

No. What you see in the linked article is a watered down story written in a rush by a reporter who, for all we know, never passed a science course in his or her life. Until we see the report, we really can't say a lot about it. So what about this report?
Exposure to lots of sexually degrading music "gives them a specific message about sex," said lead author Steven Martino, a researcher for Rand Corp. in Pittsburgh.
That's a start. The Rand Corp specializes in national security issues, though it does other stuff. Martino has written reports for them on developing Air Force space and missile officers and on the effects of marijuana use on teenagers.

Here are some quotes from a Christian Science Monitor article on the same report.
He and other researchers surveyed 1,461 adolescents in 2001 about their sexual experiences and related factors. The researchers followed up with similar questions in 2002 and 2004.

Throughout the study, participants reported how often they were listening to 16 artists chosen by the study's authors based on their popularity. In every case - across racial and gender lines, and after accounting for factors like a heightened interest in sex or more permissive parents - increased exposure to sexually degrading lyrics (though not merely sexual ones) led to increased sexual activity. [...]

"This uses a more precise methodology than previous studies have, particularly around the issue of content," says Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard University. "We as a society have lulled ourselves into thinking that if it's entertainment it doesn't affect us. There's this artificial dichotomy we've drawn between education and entertainment - education is at school, and then kids turn their brains off when they go home and listen to misogynistic lyrics." [...]

Still, such studies are notoriously difficult to conduct and are often inconclusive - merely finding an association, for instance, doesn't necessarily mean that one activity leads to another. Even Martino acknowledges there are still variables his team might not have accounted for. While it's impossible to prove that lyrics were responsible for his study's observations, Martino says he hopes that by tracking the adolescents over time - as well as by accounting for other factors such as an expressed desire to have sex at an earlier age - the study has demonstrated a strong causal connection.

Determining which lyrics were degrading and which were merely sexual constituted another challenge. Two separate researchers made that subjective decision and generally agreed. They looked for lyrics that either objectified women, viewed men as insatiable studs, or treated sex as an inconsequential game.
That's a more measured version of the story.
posted by pracowity at 3:38 AM on August 8, 2006

This scientifically corroborates the thinking of every teenage burger flipper working his entry level job, to put a $2K sound system in his $500 rust bucket beater. All those baggy pants boys with a trunk full of twelve inch long throw woofers, a rack of amps, and a CD player full of hip hop, were right all along. I don't get it, but it's apparently true.

Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Lerner & Lowe, and all those guys & gals that crooned all those Tin Pan Alley tunes, for the first 3/4 of the 20th century, all missed the Love Boat, and must be spinning in their graves. All along, what the girls really wanted was to hear trash talk over thumpin' beats.
posted by paulsc at 3:41 AM on August 8, 2006

Methinks political agendas may be influencing what studies get done, who does them and what results are sought.

And if song lyrics are getting more cynical and exploitive, maybe it has something to do with the cultural climate influenced by the same folks setting those agendas.
posted by jam_pony at 3:51 AM on August 8, 2006

In other news, pot causes criminal record, insanity.
posted by spazzm at 4:13 AM on August 8, 2006

Cannot find it right now, but the accompanying cartoon in the Sydney Morning Herald had a parent admonishing a teenager: "What filth! In my day we only listened to wholesome music, like I can't get no satisfaction"
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:54 AM on August 8, 2006

pracowity: No. What you see in the linked article is a watered down story written in a rush by a reporter who, for all we know, never passed a science course in his or her life. Until we see the report, we really can't say a lot about it. So what about this report?

But the whole point of posting links to watered-down popular-press summaries of research articles on pop culture is to trigger large-scale knee-jerk denial, snark, and outrage.

The least the OP could have done is link to the actual study. In which the causal claim is more tenuously stated as "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." (From deep in the discussion section where researchers are free to express opinions slightly beyond the evidence.)

But of course, distilling this down to a catchy lede is more difficult.

In addition, from the damn abstract, "In contrast, exposure to nondegrading sexual content was unrelated to changes in participants' sexual behavior."

Science reporting is one of those areas in which it is trivially easy to go beyond the mainstream media's summary to get the news from the horse's mouth, almost always in the form of an abstract, and frequently with access to the full article.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:00 AM on August 8, 2006 [3 favorites]

I like to listen to heavy metal and sexy music -- some times even sexy heavy metal. That might explain why I keep killing all those hookers....
posted by Dark Messiah at 5:26 AM on August 8, 2006

sergeant sandwitch: too bad they didn't use logic 101 for, y'know, slightly marginal science-y-ness.

Too bad you didn't use logic 101 for, y'know, slightly marginal levels of critical thinking. Come back and comment when you have actually passed that unit on primary vs. secondary sources.

paroxod: These asinine researchers are confusing correlation with causation. They are two entirely different things!

These asinine denzins of metafilter are confusing a newspaper headline with the claims of the researchers. They are two entirely different things! Don't they teach you guys how to actually read and understand the news in school these days?

jeffburdgess: Try actually changing the music kids listen to. I bet you'll find almost zero change, as changing a kids music won't change his/her friends.

Wow, a critical response that is not entirely a stupid and lazy waste of mefi server space.

There are two ways to go about this problem. First, you can do an experiment, which is almost difficult to pull off with naturalistic settings. Or you can do a longitudinal study and track variables over a period of time. This is how you can say things like, "smoking causes cancer." In this case, the results support a broader theory that we pick up many ideas about sexual behavior from our cultural environment.

But the authors of the article are highly cautious in their causal claims so this knee-jerk wailing about researchers confusing correlation and causation is silly. (It almost always is.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:27 AM on August 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Here's RAND's news release.
posted by riotgrrl69 at 5:29 AM on August 8, 2006

So, even if the researcher includes caveats in his study text, his employers are quite willing to dispense with them in the press release.
posted by riotgrrl69 at 5:32 AM on August 8, 2006

Of course, in the 60s, amfed up teenagers would be listening to this. Check out the, erm, nipple flowers.
posted by einekleine at 5:41 AM on August 8, 2006

I suppose that hormones have nothing to do with it. Although Christina Aguilera's music could be described as whore-moans. Wahey!
posted by ob at 5:50 AM on August 8, 2006

The RAND press release also contains appropriate hedges, and does not explicitly state a causative relationship.

And a part of me finds that there is an interesting double standard here in that it is taken for granted that media we don't like can influence beliefs and behavior but media we do like has no effect on beliefs and behaviors. It is acceptable to criticize FOX News for promoting the belief in WMDs, or propose that Gibson's Passion supports anti-Semitism. But suggestions that video games and music maybe-possibly might influence attitudes is treated with knee-jerk dismissal.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:52 AM on August 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

teens who are more preoccupied with sex are more likely to have sex

Pretty much every teen on earth is pre-occupied with sex. Attractive teens and girls willing to put out are more likely to have sex. The rest of us merely gazed from afar with wonder and then looked for something to kill.
posted by jonmc at 6:02 AM on August 8, 2006

My local news was covering this story last night, too. I remember the teaser showed kids queueing up their iPods while a voice intoned 'Could what your kid listens to on their iPod make them have SEX?'

As if teenage sex was invented by Apple.
posted by jonmc at 6:06 AM on August 8, 2006

Um, where does one procure some "sexy" music? Mine generally consists of innuendo, and it is NOT doing the job.
posted by thanatogenous at 6:23 AM on August 8, 2006

Unprotected underage sex - is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to blame?
posted by riotgrrl69 at 6:29 AM on August 8, 2006

If teen music causes teen sex, does old people music cause old people sex? Should I worried somebody's gonna pipe Lawrence Welk into my grandparent's house and get them all agitated?

*cues bubbles*
posted by jonmc at 6:32 AM on August 8, 2006

Now that you mention it, I did listen to Tool's Aenima album a lot while getting laid in my high school years. I think the erotic effect of "Stinkfist" wears off by the time "Die Eier von Satan" comes on.
posted by Clamwacker at 6:42 AM on August 8, 2006

Next up on Fox News: Teenagers have sex. EVERYBODY PANIC!
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 6:59 AM on August 8, 2006

thanatogenous - You might try a few selections from The Bloodhound Gang. Two of my favorites are "A Lapdance is So Much Better When the Stripper is Crying", and the always classic "Kiss Me Where it Smells Funny."
posted by Clamwacker at 7:04 AM on August 8, 2006

No, Teenagers panic. EVERYBODY HAVE SEX!

(it's worth a shot)
posted by jonmc at 7:04 AM on August 8, 2006

It's not just a causative thing. It's a feedback loop. Those interested in X will seek out X, and X will encourage further thinking of X until X is attained, which then xauses more X to X with Xness amxng the X.

X can be anything. Birdwatchers probably like music about birds. Maybe this encourages them to go on more birdwatching... uh, things. Honestly this preoccupation with the idea that sex is bad for young adults is creepy weird. Human beings are supposed to reproduce, but if God or fate or whatever you call it didn't make it feel good we'd probably end up like panda bears who are more interested in just sitting around and eating bamboo. Look how they've ended up.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:11 AM on August 8, 2006

Sex causes teenagers. News at 11.
posted by NationalKato at 7:31 AM on August 8, 2006

Zach, you've been taking too much X.
posted by jonmc at 7:31 AM on August 8, 2006

As Laurie Anderson was once fond of saying, let X equal X. I'd rather be on X than be on a panda. Those things stink to high heaven.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:44 AM on August 8, 2006

How long before the media picks up on this article (The Relationship Between Watching Professional Wrestling on Television and Engaging in Date Fighting Among High School Students) in the same issue of Pediatrics and makes a ridiculous statement like daughters who watch wrestling will be future husband-killers?
posted by junesix at 7:49 AM on August 8, 2006

Ok. This is a good thread. But I want SPECIFIC songs and artists here. You know. To test the theory.

Al Green and Marvin Gay make everybody horny. I have to pry my wife off if "Love and Happiness" is playing.

Wha? C'mon. I defy you to listen to "Let's Get It On" and not feel a little spontaneous humpage type undulation in the winkle region.
posted by tkchrist at 8:44 AM on August 8, 2006

I once had sex to 'War Pigs.' The night I lost my virginity, I put on 'I Want To Take You Higher,' midway through the evening. The girl danced naked to it for a bit, but the we decided to fuck acapella and the boom-lacka-lacka syncopation of my dreams did not happen.
posted by jonmc at 8:53 AM on August 8, 2006

I've heard smoking may lead to a number of health problems, too.

Another BS story created so TV news producers won't have to insert a "boring" real news item in their shows.
posted by wfc123 at 9:05 AM on August 8, 2006

.. oh yeah, and the anchor will be saying the phrase "teens having sex".

Always an attention-getter. Keeps viewers from tuning out.
posted by wfc123 at 9:07 AM on August 8, 2006

.. and if you put the story in last, you can tease it before every commercial break.
posted by wfc123 at 9:09 AM on August 8, 2006

Thanks for the links and analysis KirkJobSluder and pracowity. You're right, I should have linked to the actual study. I'm a newbie here -- this was my first post -- and had trouble creating the links on the "post" page (I was happy when I got one link to work).

I still hate the study, though. :)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:21 AM on August 8, 2006

Next up on Fox News: Teenagers have sex. EVERYBODY PANIC!

Actually, it's more like --

posted by blucevalo at 9:24 AM on August 8, 2006

"correlation vs. causation"
This is something i learned on the first day of high school statistics- The example my teacher used was:
A recent study shows that as the number of ice cream cone sales peaked, the number of drownings was also at a yearly high. Therefore, ice cream must cause drownings.
Obviously, these two statistics are not the whole picture. You need a third piece of data- the fact that both these trends occur when it's hot out- during the summer.

It's sad (but not surprisings) to see a study that is so obviously flawed make it into the news. I suspect the people who report this kind of stuff ARE smart enough to know it's flawed, and smart enough to know how easy it is to manipulate statistics to serve a certain agenda. However, did you know that 75% of all statistics are wrong?
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 9:40 AM on August 8, 2006

I hear alcohol makes teens have sex too. Someone should do a study on that.
posted by geoff. at 9:53 AM on August 8, 2006

wfc123: Always an attention-getter. Keeps viewers from tuning out.

Well, yes. As long as it isn't our teens having sex (getting pregnant, getting diseases), we love the very thought of teens having sex. We pretend otherwise, but the spam subject lines don't lie: teens fucking gets the secret clickthrough vote.
posted by pracowity at 10:05 AM on August 8, 2006

I wish I'd had sex when I was a teen. Must have been all those Annie Get Your Gun 78s my parents had that got in the way.
posted by pips at 10:16 AM on August 8, 2006

I had no sex until the very end of my teens. Then again I consider "Blood" by Numb to be the sexiest song of all.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:51 AM on August 8, 2006

KirkJobSluder: Thank you. I cringe every time social science research appears on MeFi and you've done an excellent job of diagnosing the reasons why.
posted by aaronetc at 12:48 PM on August 8, 2006

Read the flippin' study! That's my response to the newspaper articles and most of the comments on this thread. KirkJobSluder has a fine post along with some follow-up posts that are notable exception to this pattern.

After reading the official article of the study in Pediatrics, I can group my comments into the following good points and bad points:

Good Points

*The research is a longitudinal study, which makes it easier to establish the direction of causation and the timing of events. To be specific, the study designed was specifically created to rule out the argument, "People who want to have sex are more likely to enjoy raunchy music than people who don't." In the study, teenagers answered a telephone survey at time T1 about their sexual experience and their music listening habits. Teenagers who had already lost their virginity at time T1 were then put aside as a control group. The major focus of the study is whether teenagers who were virgins at time T1 had become non-virgins by the time they fielded two additional rounds of surveys at time T2 and T3.

*The linked Wikipedia entry linked above correctly states that longitudinal studies "have less power to detect causal relationships than do experiments." However, using experimental methods would be completely impractical in this context, because of the ethical constraints involved when conducting research with minors. In addition, as KirkJobSluder put it, an experiment to answer the questions this research is designed to answer would be, to put it mildly, difficult to pull off with naturalistic settings. In other words, do you really expect researchers to do a laboratory experiment where they randomly "expose" teenagers to music, and then wait to see if they take off their clothes? Aside from the fact that no institutional review board would allow such a study, it would have absolutely no applicability to the real world, because teenagers make musical choices under the influence of peer subcultures and media/MTV saturation, not in a sterile laboratory setting.

*The study makes important analytic distinctions between different kinds of sexual content in popular music lyrics instead of assuming that all sexual content is the same. To be specific, the study argues that exposure to degrading sexual content in popular music lyrics is correlated with earlier loss of virginity, but exposure to non-degrading content does not have this effect (after controlling for exposure to degrading sexual content). For this reason, the CNN headline on the study should not have referred to "Sexy Music," but to "Sexually Degrading Music." (Please note that a headline was not necessarily written by the author of the article to which it refers.)

*The study uses multivariate linear regression to control for the effects of several variables that also have an effect on sexual behavior including number of parents in the home, parental education, parental monitoring, perceptions of parental responses to future sexual behavior, perceptions of peer responses to future sexual behavior ("peer pressure"), age of friends relative to respondent (does the kid hang out with "an older crowd"), mental health, high-school grades, participation in deviant behavior, "sensation seeking," prior noncoital sexual experience, future intentions to have sex, expected negative consequences of sex, and sexual self-efficacy ("Would you be able to talk to a boy/girl about whether or not you should have sex?"). In addition, controls for race were included, because race is correlated with both musical taste and when you lose your virginity. If you want to argue that correlation does not lead to causation in this study, you have provide something that is not listed among the control variables above as the source of the spurious correlation.

Bad Points

*Lyrical content was classified as sexually degrading or non-degrading based on comments from two anonymous "raters" who independently coded the lyrics. Accordingly, we have no idea of the social background of the persons who classified the lyrics. (I would suspect that the rating was done by research assistants recruited among grad students or undergraduate research assistants, both of whom would be dissimilar to the "average" teenager.) For this reason, we have no guarantee that lyrical content classified as degrading by two "raters" in an academic context would be experienced as degrading by the teenagers who actually listen to it.

*The researchers admit that degrading sexual content might be correlated with other sexual content in lyrics: "Of songs with degrading sexual lyrics, 71% were judged to contain explicit references to sex, and 96% were judged to be about casual sex. In contrast, 51% of songs with nondegrading sexual lyrics contained explicit references to sex and only 19% were judged to be about casual sex." The effects in the study might not be a response to degrading lyrics, but a response to explicitness vs. innuendo or lyrics about casual sex vs. committed sex.

*The study refers to "sex-driven males competing with one another for females who are viewed as sexual objects," but does not consider how the gender of the performer or the gender of the listener might influence whether lyrical content is interpreted as degrading. For example, the article quotes lyrics from both Ja Rule and Lil' Kim as examples of explicit lyrical content, but you could argue that Lil' Kim's lyrical content is less likely to be experienced as degrading because her persona is that of an assertive "sexual subject" as opposed to a mere "sexual object."

*The study does not consider how musical or rhythmic content may be correlated with the lyrical content of a song. In other words, is it the degrading lyrics, or is it the thumping beats that lead to sexual initiation? Call it the boom-lacka-lacka theory of teenage sex.

*The authors do not reveal the artists whose music purportedly had effects on sexual behavior. I suppose this is necessary to stop a Tipper Gore-style PMRC campaign, but knowing which artists were used in the study would also make it more possible to determine if something else associated with the artists (e.g., music videos, sexual scandals) besides the lyrics could have the same effect on sexual behavior.

In addition, here is my read on the tables included with the study:

Table 1: There was one rap artist, one alternative artist, and one country artist who had no sexual content on their albums. The teen pop artists had an intermediate amount of sexual content, but no sexually degrading content. The artists with both the most sexual content and the most sexually degrading content were in the rap and rap-rock genres. It is not clear how the authors distinguish rap-rock and rap-metal. In addition, it would be difficult to find current music that is degrading but non-sexual or non-explicit (death metal? emo? Morrissey? Weird Al Yankovic?).

Table 2: The correlation between exposure to degrading lyrics and initiation into sexual intercourse is relatively high (.36), but still smaller than the correlation with noncoital sexual experience (.47), intention to have sex (.44), perceived friend approval of sex (.39), and sexual self-efficacy (.38). On the other hand, the music has a stronger correlation with sexual outcomes than any other non-sexual factor including involvement in deviant behavior (.35) or a need for "sensation seeking" (.25).

Table 3: In the multivariate analysis, exposure to degrading sexual lyrics has a larger effect on eventual initiation into sexual intercourse (.23) than any other control variable (the other variables range from -.01 to .21). It also has a larger effect on participation in noncoital sex (.18) than any other variable except prior involvement in noncoital sex (.36).

A final comment: you could give this study a very different "spin" than the dominant one that will probably appear in most media articles about it. If it is sexually degrading lyrics that matters, not sexual content per se, then replacing your kid's Ja Rule CDs with Barry White records should be just as effective in slowing down his initiation into sexual behavior than trying to censor sexually degrading content.
posted by jonp72 at 2:22 PM on August 8, 2006

knee-jerk wailing about researchers confusing correlation and causation

Man, It's getting hot in hurr...
posted by Sparx at 2:24 PM on August 8, 2006

KirkJobSluder: Thank you. I cringe every time social science research appears on MeFi and you've done an excellent job of diagnosing the reasons why.

posted by Marla Singer at 2:30 PM on August 8, 2006

replacing your kid's Ja Rule CDs with Barry White records

Oh, yeah, that'll go over big with the kiddies .....
posted by blucevalo at 2:42 PM on August 8, 2006

« Older Google now warning against Badware   |   The Places Los Angeles Forgot Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments