Letters from Green Island

August 8 2006

Hot lyrics spark teenage sex

Editor,
Re: Hot lyrics spark teenage sex August 8, 2006
(also copied at the end of this letter)

This is the kind of witless stuff that is giving what is left of Canadian 'journalism' a bad name. Leave it for the other Star with the space alien and Elvis stories for those whose lives need the titillation. The real world is fine for most of us - stories like "sexy music causes teens to have sex earlier [ohmygod!!]" don't really cut it for those of us with IQs larger than your average basketball score. I at least expect a considerably higher standard of 'reporting' in general than this in a mainstream Canadian newspaper (admittedly those expectations have been taking quite a beating the last few years). Did it ever occur to your whizbang editorial staff (or whoever made the decision to write that 'other-Star-like' inflammatory headline) that there is no justification whatsoever for postulating a cause-effect relationship here? That there is, to whatever extent the study linked these two items, nothing more in reality than a quite natural 'like-attracts-like' sort of phenomenon? That is to say, your headline is approximately the same order of logic as 'Reading more science books causes teens to become scientists! [oh wow!!]', or something - again, no cause-effect, just some people who are headed in a certain direction in life anyway, doing things that are natural along that path. Maybe, just maybe, young people who live a certain type of lifestlye include among other things a certain type of music as part of that lifestyle - which does NOT mean the music 'causes' the other aspects of that lifestyle (the music may well reinforce attitudes and behaviours that the young people are learning elsewhere - but this is very different from 'causing' them initially, as the authors here are attempting to assert). Newspaper reporters for the Toronto Star tend to live in or around Toronto - ergo (according to the brilliant reasoning of the study and your headline writer), living in or around Toronto causes one to have increased chances of becoming a 'reporter' (boy, do I use that word loosely considering this article) for the Toronto Star. I would wager that the same young people who listen to this music and engage in sex earlier than the other teens surveyed are also more likely to be wearing body metal - would you then consider it rational to say that "Body metal causes more sex!!! [ohmygod!!!]"??? (or would the actual (lack of) connection perhaps be a bit more obvious with this example - that people living a certain type of lifestyle include body metal, a certain kind of music, and a tendency to have sex earlier as part of that lifestyle - but none of these things can correctly be said to 'cause' that lifestyle.)

I do note that at the end of the piece there are a couple of comments from others who question the validity of the study, but this in no way exonerates the headline of the piece. One might note that the original study (available here) actually says "...analyses indicated that youth who listened to more degrading sexual content at T2 were more likely to subsequently initiate intercourse..." - which is NOT the same as saying the music causes the sex, although the entire 'study' does its best to make that link, with the same amount of justification as you have for your headline - evidently a theory looking for proof, more politically motivated junk science sponsored by the Rand people in the US.

You might, if you were really concerned about this sort of thing (certain teens having sex earlier than others), ask some other questions or write some other headlines.

For instance - Why is the major journal of Pediatrics in the United States publishing stories (that would more appropriately be in some sort of sociological journal where the scientific standards are somewhat different in the first place, sociology being what it is - not 'medicine', that is to say), attempting to make people think there is a cause-effect relationship between a certain type of music and sexual activity, when in reality the initiation of sexual activity at an early age has a great deal more to do with poverty and class and related sociodemographics than the music one listens to? Music can, of course, be a rallying point for rebellion or other action, helping to solidify groups (who sings the national anthem before heading off to kill 'the other'??); perhaps the leaders of our capitalist society want to try to put a damper on the music and any solidifying effect it might have on these disadvantaged groups, without getting too close to the actual causes of either early teenage sex and other rebellions thoughts coming from the oppressed poor. Just maybe something like that would be useful to explore. Probably somewhat harder to get funding for from the Rand people, though, all things considered (one notes that the senior author of the paper has also been involved with studies linking alcohol and marijuana to teen sex, and suggesting control of such things be ramped up once again - again, with no mention of poverty.).

Or - Why do we have a very large number of young people who are so alienated from mainstream society that they listen to rebellious music and engage in what they perceive as rebellious behavior at an early age?

Or - Why does so much of the advertising we see on television promote sexual activity, and promote the idea that being sexually attractive, and having sex early and often with attractive members of the opposite sex is one of the primary ways of proving one is 'a winner' in society? And then we have so much talk against teenage sex and promiscuity and just plain old sex in general rather hypocritically oozing from the lips of our 'leaders' - are our kids somewhat schitzophrenic because the whole society teaches them to be?

Or - what's wrong, actually, with teens having sex, as long as they do so willingly and are well aware of the dangers of STDs or pregnancy, and take appropriate precautions as required? Are we trying to pretend that even though adolescents are full of sexual hormones and curiosity and generally not very bright about such things (knowledge comes with experience, no other way, before you learn to swim you splash around like an idiot for awhile, hopefully among friends who will help you rather than watch you drown...), that just because we tell them to they will just suppress all of those instincts until they get married and "SEX!!!!!!" becomes officially sanctioned?? Is this some sort of wonderland we are suppsed to be living in? Why does our society do such a terribly poor job of initiating young people into what should be one of the most wonderful parts of their life, and then blame THEM when they damage themselves or others with their 'unsanctioned' experimentation? If they didn't have to learn in dark corners by themselves about such things, led by, if anyone, older kids whose motives are often suspect (selfish rather than nurturing, that is to say), and didn't face such censure from the 'authorities' for their natural experimentations, many if not most of these problems would never happen.

Oh well, I might as well cut it here, I suspect I am about 10 ideas beyond what would ever get printed in a Box paper already - and I'm just getting warmed up! darn.

Your faithful, if ever unpublished, correspondant, watching from outside the Box -

Dave Patterson
Hat Yai, Thailand

=================================

Hot lyrics spark teenage sex
Degrading songs prompt earlier start: Study
Explicit music `really lowers kids' inhibitions'
Aug. 7, 2006
LINDSEY TANNER, (AP)

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HICAGO—Teens whose iPods are full of music with raunchy, sexual lyrics start having sex sooner than those who prefer other songs, a study has found.

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

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 behaviour than those where sexual references are more veiled and relationships appear more committed, the study showed.

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 per cent started having sex within two years, versus 29 per cent of those who said they listened to little or no sexually degrading music.

Exposure to lots of sexually degrading music "gives them a specific message about sex," said lead author Steven Martino, a researcher for Rand Corp. Boys learn they should be relentless in pursuit of women and girls learn to view themselves as sex objects, he said.

"We think that really lowers kids' inhibitions and makes them less thoughtful" about sexual decisions and may influence them to make decisions they regret, he said.

The study, based on telephone interviews with 1,461 participants aged 12 to 17, appears in the August issue of Pediatrics, being released today.

Most participants were virgins when they were first questioned in 2001. Follow-up interviews were done in 2002 and 2004 to see if music choice had influenced subsequent behaviour.

Natasha Ramsey, 17, from New Brunswick, N.J., said she and other teens sometimes listen to sexually explicit songs because they like the beat.

"A lot of teens think that's the way they're supposed to be, they think that's the cool thing to do. Because it's so common, it's accepted," said Ramsey, an editor for Sexetc.org, a teen sexual health website.

Benjamin Chavis, chief executive officer of the Hip-Hip Summit Action Network, a coalition of hip-hop musicians and industry executives, said explicit lyrics are a cultural expression that reflect "social and economic realities."

"We caution rushing to judgment that music more than any other factor is a causative factor" for teens initiating sex, Chavis said.

Yvonne Fulbright, a sex researcher and author, said factors including peer pressure, self-esteem and home environment are probably more influential than the research suggests.

"It's a little dangerous to just pinpoint one thing," she said. "You have to look at everything that's going on in a young person's life. When somebody has a healthy sense of themselves, they don't take these lyrics too seriously."
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