Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Teens + Music = Sex?

A + B ≠ C

Ugh! Pet peeve time. I can’t stand how the popular news media hypes medical research results. Invariably they get the story wrong and people end up believing a half-truth. Case in point: this gem from the local evening newscast.

If you're a parent you may be surprised by some of the sexual lyrics of popular songs you're [Sic.] kids are listening to. And now research shows, songs with racy lyrics may influence your teen's [Sic.] when it comes to sex. (WHDH-TV online, August 7, 2006 - Good thing it's not print media because their spelling is for shit.)

Not that the typical parent would look, but the research on which this story is based was published in the August issue of medical journal Pediatrics. While 1,461 teens (ages 12-17) were enrolled in the study, the analyses described included only the 1,242 with complete data. Analyses about sexual intercourse specifically were restricted to the 938 teens who were virgins at the beginning of the study. While 938 teens is plenty to draw statistical conclusions about the study population, it is not nearly enough to generalize to all teens in the US.

The researchers did not know exactly what music the teens listened to. Instead, they asked how often (never, sometimes, a lot) the teens listened to 16 ‘top billboard artists’ (1 hard rock, 2 alternative rock, 2 rap-rock, 3 rap, 1 rap-metal, 1 R&B, 2 country and 4 teen pop). The songs on each artist’s most recent album were analyzed for sexual content and classified as no sexual content, nondegrading sexual content or degrading sexual content. The specific artists/albums are not named (my main beef with what is otherwise a decently written research article). However, Dizzy by 98 Degrees and Livin It Up by Ja Rule are given as examples of songs with nondegrading and degrading sexual content, respectively.

OK, so, blah, blah, blah…you all can go read the whole article if you want, I’m skipping to the conclusion. These are direct quotes. (Emphasis added by moi.)

Exposure to sexual lyrics was not related to changes in sexual behavior when those lyrics were not sexually degrading.

…our correlational data do not allow us to make causal inferences [between listening to music and having sex] with certainty.

... at the time of the third survey, about half of our sample had become legal adults (18–20 years); initiation of intercourse in this group would not be considered early according to US norms and might be considered healthy.

Although we accounted for many individual and environmental factors that might otherwise explain the relationship between exposure to sexual music content and adolescent sexual behavior… it is possible that we have overlooked some variable that may account for the association.
Martino et al., 2006
Good little researchers that Martino and colleagues are, they pointed out all the limitations of their study so the results can be understood for what they are. Yes, the study found an association between listening to artists classified as sexually degrading and having intercourse for the first time during the course of the three-year study. This MAY mean that if teens listen to rap music, they will have sex. It may also mean that if teens listen to gospel music, they will have sex. Bottom line, this study does NOT prove that listening to trashy music causes teens to have sex.

So, all you parents of teens best stop wasting your time snooping on your kids’ iPods. Although not easy, the best thing you can do is have a heart-to-heart with your teens about S-E-X and then keep the lines of communication on that subject open. That’s infinitely more important than what music they listen to!

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