Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

02/25/2009 (11:02 am)

Another Total Shocker: Degrading Sexual Music Increases Teen Sexuality

Another notch in the category, “Things an 8th grader could tell you that we have to waste research dollars proving.” And no, I’m not opposed to the research; I’m disgusted at the rationalizing and dissembling by social progressives as they dismantle civil society that makes this sort of research so necessary.

Dr. Brian Primack of Pitt’s outstanding medical school discussed his findings yesterday from research soon to be published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, demonstrating a strong correlation between hours per day listening to music containing “sexually degrading” lyrics and early teen sexual behavior, and thus also with sexually-transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy. An abstract of preparatory research by the same authors may be seen here.

Dr. Brian A. Primack of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine says the study demonstrates that, among this sample of young adolescents, high exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex in popular music was independently associated with higher levels of sexual behavior. In fact, exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex was one of the strongest associations with sexual activity…

The study, scheduled to be published in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, says those with the most exposure to the lyrics describing degrading sex were more than twice as likely to have had sexual intercourse, compared to those with the least exposure.

This seems to agree with a RAND study published in Pediatrics back in 2006, that reported similar findings.

The immediate question that springs to mind is, “What do they mean by ‘sexually degrading’ lyrics?” The abstract and articles do not contain that information; however, I was able to find an NPR interview with one of the RAND researchers from 2006, and he defined “sexually degrading” lyrics as lyrics “…that portray women as sexual objects, men as having voracious sexual appetites, and sex itself as inconsequential.” They differentiated those from lyrics about loving all night and forever, and so forth.

kool_g_rap_front_view1The researchers seem to believe that their research illustrates a “cultural message” mechanism, wherein young people take their behavior cues concerning how to treat their budding sexuality from the messages that are available in the surrounding culture. If they frequently hear “Screwing casually is what adults do” when they’re discovering their own sexuality, then they screw casually.

Duuuuuhhh… ya think?

It would be a bit more difficult to construct the research that proves that exposure to lyrics portraying non-marital sex as wonderful, uplifting, eternal, and universal encourages teenagers to engage in sexual relations outside of committed relationships, because such messages are so common that it would be virtually impossible to find subjects not affected by them. However, it’s already been demonstrated that teens who watch more sexy TV are more likely to engage in early sexual activity, and more likely to get pregnant, than those who watch less. And frankly, I don’t have the slightest doubt that the decades-long drumbeat of approval for casual, non-committed sex in the popular media is the motive force behind the epidemic of venereal diseases and teen pregnancy our nation is suffering. And if you feel like responding “But, teen pregnancy is down,” be sure to include your answer to “Down from where?” It may be down from 2001. It’s not down from 1960, that’s for sure.

Allow me to repeat a favorite theme of mine when this topic comes up: condoms don’t help. If you wonder what’s my basis for saying this, here’s where I discuss it in detail. The short version is, birth control is not disease control, condoms fail remarkably frequently and especially among the young, and if you increase condom use by a factor of 3 while you’re increasing sexual activity by a factor of 10, both pregnancy and disease accelerate. “Condoms” is an excuse generated by the same social malefactors that tell us that random teen sexuality is “normal and healthy.” The despair and infertility of a generation is on their heads. They should be driven from polite society.

The NPR interview after the RAND study contained some interesting material illustrating why we cannot allow the music industry to police itself. Listen to this observation from Danyel Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Vibe Magazine, when asked whether rapp was getting a falsely negative image:

A lot of rappers, and more than I would like to see, especially male rappers, are saying things about women that I would not want my niece to hear until she was well into her 20s, and then only if she was forced to. But what I am saying is, while I don’t like it, everything is not for me to like. I just don’t want to shut these guys down. I want them to have their ugly moment. I think this is is an angry, ugly spurt in rap music, I think this is unfortunate, but I think it needs to happen.

Earlier in the interview, Smith offered her opinion that the burst of abusive sex talk in rap music was a reaction to years of the black community having their sexuality stifled by society. I have to wonder which years she meant; I don’t recall any racist memes that insisted that blacks were not sexual at all, or insisting that they ought not to be. Quite the contrary, in fact. I think she’s just repeating urban myths — the one that says if you tell yourself “No” to sex too much, eventually you’ll explode, and the one that says that when you fall into angry and abusive speech patterns, that “gets it off your chest” and then you’ll stop and be all better.

I have no respect for either claim; they’re both sheer nonsense. There’s all the difference in the world between repression and self-control, and learning self-control reinforces itself — it gets stronger the longer you practice it. Choosing to behave in a sexually responsible manner, even to the point of abstaining from sex until you’re married, does not hurt anyone, nor does it cause any sort of explosive behavior. (Abstaining out of neurotic fear is another story.)

Furthermore, the habit of speaking in angry and abusive patterns also reinforces itself. Sometimes it’s necessary, for a moment, to resort to candor where you’ve been practicing restraint, but that’s a completely different matter. Opening the gates to permit a flood of sexually degrading language has not “gotten it off our chests,” it has filled our ears with filth, to which we’re gradually becoming numb and taking it in stride.

Is there a parental responsibility here? Of course. However, having raised four kids myself, I can assure you that parents’ ability to limit the cultural images their kids consume is limited, especially in this age of electronic gadgetry. One could, I suppose, deprive them of music, video, computer, TV, and movies, and lock them away from their friends, and then they’d never hear any of it. As soon as one permits them to step outside the house — even to go to school, or to their friends’ houses — they have access to an array of choices over which parents have no control aside from what they’ve taught them. Even a simple cell phone creates the opportunity for musical exchange, as does any computer worth owning. This level of liberty occurs in our culture long before kids have acquired the ability to make adult consumer choices, and there’s no proper way for a parent to control it, especially in a culture where other parents don’t.

I’m a strong advocate of free speech, but there are clear limits. The “crying ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” proverb applies here; if this sort of talk provably leads young people to behave in a self-destructive manner, then there exists no Constitutional protection for this sort of speech, and it should be banned. In an environment where national and international media cross borders in milliseconds, this is one of those arenas, a subset of “keeping the peace,” where a legitimate role exists for government. I would have little objection to a national ban on sexually degrading lyrics, and none at all to state and local bans.

Don’t “give them their ugly moment.” Shut them down, hard. Shut them down, now.

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February 25, 2009 @ 11:18 am #

While I agree with what you say, you make an error that is common when discussing statistics. The study does not show that “A increases B” It shows that they are correlated. Perhaps people who indulge in B are more likely to choose A as well. Also, everyone with red hair dies, but that does not mean that red hair causes death. I am not saying you are wrong (I think you are right), but it is important to remember the limits of statistics. This study can be used to show that your opinion was not disproved, but it cannot be used to show it as proved. A big difference. In other words, it adds weight to your argument, but does not prove it. It looks like the authors of the study made the same error, unfortunately.

February 25, 2009 @ 12:20 pm #

oLD gUY:

You are correct in your understanding of what statistics prove, and what they do not, and I am completely and consciously aware of the difference. I did not make the assertion, nor do I believe, that the research being cited “proves” that rap lyrics cause rampant sexual behavior. However, while I understand what the research does and does not prove, I believe that such causation exists and is real, and proceed on that premise. In fact, I think the causal relationship is so obvious an 8th grader could tell you it exists. I said that, too.

February 25, 2009 @ 12:30 pm #

I think it one of the greatest ironies of the 20th century that, at the same time women are supposed to be more sexually liberated and empowered, they have become more objectified and trivialized. The saddest part of this, is that this miscalculation has not only damaged women’s ability to have successful relationships (or rather understand how to conduct a relationship to a satisfactory conclusion) it has also done the same to men.

Here is an example of what I am talking about (I have more but this is the most salient): A few years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, a girl about 3-4 years younger than me (I was about 31 at the time.) She was attractive and intelligent, and while she was sexually active, she could never understand why her relationships never seemed to last for any great length of time.

She told me about a date she had gone on with a guy she had met online. They had had a great time, had spent most of the evening talking and she thought had really hit it off. However, when she had talked to him the next day about getting together in the future he had seemed completely indifferent. She asked for my interpretation as a guy about what had gone wrong.

The first question I asked was: “Did you sleep with him?” She said she had not. I asked her whether at the end of the night he had seemed to be having a good time or had seemed distant or something. She said he seemed to like her a lot. I told her it was impossible to know since people are squirrely, but maybe something had happened she did not know about. She said she did not know either, but it really bothered her since she had really liked him and they had seemed to really hit it off.

This kind of intrigued me so I asked the same question again: “Did you two have sex?” She again said that she had not. I knew she was lying in some way, so I asked the Clinton question. She turned all shades of red and said she had in fact given him oral sex. I told her without hesitation: “There’s your problem.” I may as well have been speaking Aramaic.

I then let her in on a bit of male psychology. It is not right, it does not make sense, but it seems to be true. A man likes sex. Most mature guys want more than sex, but they will not turn it down in a pinch. A man can really like a woman. However, if she sleeps with him too soon (this is different from guy to guy I imagine), he will move her in his mind out of the permanent relationship category, into the merely “fun times” category.

Now this is most likely not true in all cases, but the solution it suggests would seem like the best way to play it safe if you are looking for a real relationship. In other words, even if you want sex too, if you want a long term relationship, you should wait in order to make sure that the other aspects of the relationship are developing at the same rate as the sexual attraction. Because sex can kill a relationship.

In our society, we have conditioned kids for the past 20-30 years to treat sex like eating or breathing- If you want it, do it. At the same time, a large number of people want longer term and more stable relationships, without realizing that what they have been taught is not the best way to go about getting it.

Sex is great, I do not think you, Phil, are saying anything different. However, like with so many other things, at the same time we supposedly know more, we understand less.

So they go through the motions of what society tells them is the “adult” way to conduct a relationship, and then they cannot understand why they do not get the relationship that they want.

Sorry about the length of this post, but people both confuse and fascinate me.

p.s. the friend I mentioned above, a few months after we had this discussion, tried to follow my general advice with another guy she liked she had met online. They are now engaged. Score one for maturity.

February 25, 2009 @ 12:42 pm #


A) No need to apologize for the length; great story.

B) I certainly have no objection to sex. However, I do have a history. If you’ll follow the link under my comment about condoms, and read the appendix at the end of the post, you’ll understand a bit better.

C) “The Clinton question.” Heh. Nice catch.

D) I’m glad she listened. Well done.

February 25, 2009 @ 1:59 pm #

Hi Phil,

It has to be at least somewhat encouraging (at least it is to me) that most of the “social progressives” that you accuse of “dismantling civil society” are completely on board with you on objectifying lyrics that are degrading to women. While they may come at their conclusions in a different way than you do, they still apparently speak from a valuing of each individual when they voice their opposition. I think you’ll find the movement for “Parental Warning” stickers on CD’s was backed very strongly by feminists and social progressives of various stripes.

Perhaps something can be made of this common ground in order to effect a societal change, at least on the degrading front.

On the causal sex front, that battle is much more difficult…because it appears nearly everyone is involved,as you’ve pointed out. It may be difficult to get even many conservatives to line up behind that one.

February 25, 2009 @ 4:38 pm #

Your headline:
Another Total Shocker: Degrading Sexual Music Increases Teen Sexuality

In the body of your essay:
The researchers seem to believe that their research illustrates a “cultural message” mechanism…

And again:
However, it’s already been demonstrated that teens who watch more sexy TV are more likely to engage in early sexual activity, and more likely to get pregnant, than those who watch less.

February 25, 2009 @ 5:58 pm #

Believe it or not, darkhorse, my commitment is to Christ, not to conservatism. I know you don’t entirely believe me when I say that, but it’s the case, and I never forget it.

Consequently, I don’t miss it when some element of an opposing camp happens to join with me on some issue; politics makes strange bedfellows, and frequently political wins occur because of the unintended conjunction of agendas among disparate players. On the topic of pornography, for example, the feminist writings are among the best, and full of interesting insights.

However, too many from among the feminists don’t really believe what they preach, or feel as though radical hedonism in the name of free expression is more important, so they opt for warnings, which don’t affect much, rather than bans or serious pressure on the recording industry.

You’re correct about casual sex, but that’s really where the battle needs to be. We’ve developed probably the most sexually casual culture in the history of the planet, and aren’t really even aware of it. Ann Coulter’s latest book, Guilty, purportedly has statistics about the social consequences of single motherhood that are staggering; I really want to check her sources and see how sound her research is, but I suspect she’s right on target. The book Epidemic, by Dr. Meg Meeker, opened my eyes to the magnitude of the problem; STDs are genuinely out of control, because we do so much partner switching.

February 25, 2009 @ 7:59 pm #


Not sure why the defensiveness on the Christ/conservative commitment front, but I don’t doubt you for a second!

The warning label movement, unfortunately, came from the Christian conservatives (Tipper Gore among them), if my memory is correct. But I don’t doubt that the alliance between social conservatives and the feminists (radical and Christian and all in between) could get some real treadwork done here.

Without an alliance like this, there probably won’t be enough of a movement to make it happen!

February 26, 2009 @ 9:08 am #

oLDgUY –

Ok, I’ll cop a plea and admit that my wording falls short of absolute, scientific rigor in discussing the findings. Of course, I don’t really claim absolute, scientific rigor; this is a political opinion blog, not a contributing source of peer review for social science research. So, sorry if I stepped on your toes; but please be assured, I’m very, very well aware of what social science research does and does not prove; and I’m also very well aware of, and willing to articulate, what I think is true, whether the research has fully proved it or not.

February 26, 2009 @ 12:19 pm #

I am sorry if you took offense. I did not intend so. You have a most excellent blog.

February 26, 2009 @ 1:53 pm #

I don’t buy the “angry, repressed people getting it off their chests and having their moment” argument. People will push any envelope they are permitted to, as far as they can get away with. Telling the vulgarians, in effect, “We know you are angry and you have a right to be. We wish you would tone it down, but we will not hold you responsible or make you stop”, is condescending and will only buy their contempt, and increasing vulgarity and violence.

I remember NFL great James Brown worked with gang members in LA, and even had some of them at his house. When they tossed cigarette butts on his carpets he told them to knock it off. When they tried to bitch and moan he cut them right off at the knees and told them not to even bother running that victim/misunderstood game on him, that it wouldn’t fly for a second on the streets and it sure as hell wouldn’t fly in his house.

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