Sexual Content in Music, Sexual Cognitions and Risk
Sexual Content in Music, Sexual Cognitions and Risk among Emerging Adults in the U.S. & Australia
Chrysalis Wright & Mark Rubin
This study examined the relationship between sexual content in music and sexual cognitions and risk among
emerging adults in the United States and Australia. Music content was examined via lyrics, music videos, and
social media posts of popular music artists. It was hypothesized that there would be a positive association
between sexual content in music and sexual cognitions and risk. Sexual content in music lyrics, videos, and social
media was assessed using content analysis of the top artists rated by participants in the United States and
Australia. Findings indicated variations in sexual content based on music genre and location, and that music lyrics,
videos and social media posts all contain sexual content. Results from hierarchical regression analyses indicated
that sexual lyrical content, sexual content in music videos, and sexual references in the social media posts of
artists were related to negative sexual cognitions for both samples. This trend was also found for the degree of
sexual risk for both samples. While findings point to the direction of a universal impact of the association between
sexual content in music and sexual cognitions and degree of sexual risk, they also highlight trends in these
relationships across countries.
Participants included 514 college students from Australia (91.8% Caucasian,
78.4% female, M age 21.45) and 902 college students from the USA (68%
Caucasian, 71.7% female, M age 21.58).
Our findings support previous research in that exposure to music containing
sexual content is associated with risky sexual behaviors (Bleakley et al., 2008,
2009; Wright & Qureshi, 2015; Zhang et al., 2008). The results not only
demonstrate variations in how sexual content in different music genres are
related to sexual cognitions and risk, but they also demonstrate international
variations in these effects and confirm the multifaceted nature of music
(Wright & Qureshi, 2015).
40 to 75% of music videos contain sexual content
1/3 of popular song lyrics contain sexual content
Sexual content in music may vary based on music genre
63% of fans follow artists on social media
Agbo-Quaye & Robertson, 2010; Frisby & Aubrey, 2012; Primack et al., 2008; RIAA, 2016; Zhang et al., 2008
Exposure to sexual content in music has been related to expectations
regarding sexual activity, liberal attitudes towards sexual behavior,
engagement in risky sexual behaviors, as well as specific sexual cognitions,
such as the objectification of women, stereotypical sex-role behaviors, and
acceptance of earlier sexual initiation (Aubrey & Frisby, 2011; Bleakley et al.,
2008, 2009; Primack et al., 2009; Turchik & Garske, 2009; Ward et al., 2011;
Wright & Qureshi, 2015; Zhang et al., 2008).
Previous research has focused on the influence of song lyrics or music videos
on risky sexual behaviors and sexual attitudes. To date, however, no research
has examined the impact of music artists social media use on sexual
cognitions and behaviors of fans.
In this study, we compared and contrasted exposure to sexual content in
music (i.e., lyrics, videos, social media posts of artists), sexual cognitions, and
sexual risk among participants from the USA and Australia. The study was
guided by the theory of triadic influence, which proposes that social,
attitudinal, and personal characteristics influence behaviors (also referred to
as ultimate, distal, proximal) (Flay et al., 2009). The theory assumes that
behaviors are partly influenced by perceptions of the portrayed attitudes and
behaviors of others and that individuals are motivated to adopt attitudes and
behaviors that are displayed by those who they feel connected with.
We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between sexual
content in music and sexual cognitions and sexual risk. It was also predicted
that music genres that contain explicit sexual content would be associated
with negative sexual cognitions and increased sexual risk.
Sexual cognitions summarize a wide range of thoughts, images,
and fantasies related to sexual acts, ones own sexual behaviors,
and its implications.
Sexual cognitions may fall into either positive (e.g., intimate
themes) or negative categories (e.g., dominance themes for men,
submission themes for women).
Moyano & Sierra, 2014; Renaud & Byers, 1999
Participants completed a 31-minute online questionnaire and answered
questions related to their demographics and social class (alpha reliability
was .80 for the USA sample; .79 for the Australian sample). A modified
version of Turchik and Garskes (2009) sexual risk survey was also included
(alpha reliability was .79 for the USA sample; .71 for the Australian sample).
Participants answered 77 questions to assess nine sexual cognition themes
(i.e., dating is a game, men are sex driven, women are sex objects, men are
tough, feminine and masculine ideals, sexual stereotypes, adversarial sexual
beliefs, sexual conservatism) that formed an aggregate measure of sexual
cognition (Chronbach = .88) (ter Bogt et al., 2010, Burt, 1980; Ward, 2002;
Ward et al., 2005; 2011).
Participants rated the top 55 music artists from the top 40 charts in their
country on how much they liked the artist, listened to the artist, watched the
artists videos, and how often they read about the artist via social media.
Exposure to sexual content in lyrics and videos were based on measures of
content analysis using the frequency method for the most current popular
songs performed by the top 20 artists rated by participants. Exposure to
social media sexual content were based on measures of content analysis
using the frequency method for four months of social media posts by music
artists on Twitter and Facebook (January-April 2014). Two independent raters
coded for: sexual behavior and body language, sexual talk, and demeaning
messages. Intra-class reliability was assessed for USA artists lyrical (.97) and
video content (.92), Australian artists lyrical (.94) and video content (.91),
and combined social media posts (.84). Exposure variables were created by
multiplying self-reported exposure by the average content contained in lyrics,
videos, and social media posts. Exposure variables were grouped by genre
and used in analyses.
The Australian sample reported more exposure to sexual content via pop,
dance and rock lyrics as well as rock videos and social media posts by R&B
and rock artists. The USA sample reported more exposure to sexual content
via R&B, rap and country music lyrics; pop, dance, rap and country music
videos, as well as social media posts by pop, dance and country music artists.
Both samples reported the same amount of exposure via R&B videos (see
Figure 1). Additionally, USA participants reported more negative sexual
cognitions (M = 183.89, SD = 36.38) than those from Australia (M = 168.45,
SD = 34.10). Australian participants had an increased sexual risk (M = 47.09,
SD = 54.43) compared to USA participants (M = 34.13, SD = 35.51).
Hierarchical multiple regression analyses, with sexual cognitions and risk as
the outcome variables, were conducted separately for both samples as well
as with a combined sample. Control variables were entered first, followed by
exposure to sexual content in music. Results can be found in Tables 13.
In line with the theory of triadic influence (Flay et al., 2009), music media
(e.g., mass media) is an ultimate level influence representing the cultural
environment. As such, the effects of music media can be thought of as wide
spreading and the most mediated. Sexual cognitions, then, can be considered
a form of distal level influence in that sexual cognitions represent
expectations regarding sexual acts and represent values and behavior-specific
evaluations as well as specific beliefs that result from interacting with the
more dominant culture. According to the theory of triadic influence,
exposure to sexual content in music impacts on consumers sexual
cognitions. Consumers then make decisions and form intentions that have a
direct impact on their behavior.
In both samples, exposure to sexual content in music was related to sexual
cognitions and degree of sexual risk.
The influence of artists extends beyond their music content.
International trends were found in that social media posts were more related
to sexual cognitions and risk for Australian participants than USA participants.
Direction of influence varied by genre.
Chen et al., 2006; Wright & Qureshi, 2015
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