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Those exposed to more degrading sexual references in popular music are more likely to initiate intercourse at a younger age. The purpose of this study was to perform a content analysis of contemporary popular music with particular attention paid to the prevalence of degrading and non--degrading sexual references. We also aimed to determine if sexual references of each subtype were associated with other song characteristics and/or content.
We used Billboard magazine to identify the top popular songs in 2005. Two independent coders each analyzed all of these songs (n=279) for degrading and non-degrading sexual references. As measured with Cohen's kappa scores, inter-rater agreement on degrading vs. non-degrading sex was substantial. Mentions of substance use, violence, and weapon carrying were also coded.
Of the 279 songs identified, 103 (36.9%) contained references to sexual activity. Songs with references to degrading sex were more common than songs with references to non-degrading sex (67 [65.0%] vs. 36 [35.0%], p<0.001). Songs with degrading sex were most commonly Rap (64.2%), whereas songs with non-degrading sex were most likely Country (44.5%) or Rhythm & Blues/Hip-Hop (27.8%). Compared with songs that had no mention of sexual activity, songs with degrading sex were more likely to contain references to substance use, violence, and weapon carrying. Songs with non-degrading sex were no more likely to mention these other risk behaviors.
References to sexual activity are common in popular music, and degrading sexual references are more prevalent than non-degrading references. References to degrading sex also frequently appear with references to other risky behaviors.