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Love and Marriage? Not in Today’s Popular Music


Pitt Study Reveals It’s All About Sex

PITTSBURGH, – More than one-third of popular music contains sexual references, with most of those representing degrading sexual portrayals, according to a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study in the September/October issue of Public Health Reports.

The study analyzed 279 of the most popular songs of 2005, according to the Billboard charts rating system. Of those, 103 contained references to sexual activity, and 67 of those references were classified as degrading. Furthermore, songs with degrading sexual portrayals were more likely to reference substance use, violence and weapons.

“Studies have suggested that exposure to degrading sexual references in music is linked to risky sexual behaviors among young people,” said Brian Primack, M.D., Ed.M., assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Pitt’s School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “Knowing this, we thought it especially important to ascertain how many of these references are contained in today’s popular music.”

For this study, degrading sexual lyrics were defined as those where sexual value was placed solely on physical characteristics and where one person (usually male) was portrayed as having an insatiable sexual appetite while the partner was objectified.

Sexual references differed significantly by musical genre. Researchers noted that songs with degrading sexual references were most commonly found in the rap genre, representing 64 percent of all noted degrading references, and R&B/hip-hop was second-highest with 22 percent. Alternatively, songs with non-degrading sexual lyrics were most often found in the country genre, with 45 percent of all such references.

“Adolescents listen to an average of two to four hours of music each day,” said Dr. Primack. “While we can’t expect to change the music industry, understanding what young people are exposed to can help parents know what’s out there. It also can assist educators in developing media literacy programs to teach kids how to interpret the messages they hear in popular music.”

Co-authors of the study include Melanie Gold, D.O., and Eleanor Schwarz, M.D., M.S., both of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and Madeline Dalton, Ph.D., Dartmouth Medical School.

Dr. Primack was supported by funding from the National Cancer Institute, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Maurice Falk Foundation.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is one of the nation’s leading medical schools, renowned for its curriculum that emphasizes both the science and humanity of medicine and its remarkable growth in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant support, which has more than doubled since 1998. As one of the university’s six Schools of the Health Sciences, the School of Medicine is the academic partner to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Their combined mission is to train tomorrow’s health care specialists and biomedical scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance understanding of the causes and treatments of disease and participate in the delivery of outstanding patient care.


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