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Music’s Influence on Risky Sexual Behaviors: Examining the Cultivation Theory

Chrysalis L. Wright, PhD,
University of Central Florida

Michelle Craske,
University of Central Florida

 
Music-squareAbstract:

The current study examined the relationship between sexual content in music lyrics and music videos and the sexual behaviors of Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic emerging adults from a cultivation framework by assessing 715 male and female college students. It was hypothesized that there would be a negative association between sexual content in music and sexual behaviors and that the cultivation framework could be used to partially explain these findings. Findings indicated variations in sexual behaviors based on participant race/ethnicity. Results from hierarchical regression analyses indicated that sexual lyrical content and sexual content in music videos, along with participant gender and race/ethnicity, are correlated with the dating and sexual behaviors of participants. A series of repeated measures analysis of variances were conducted to assess the extent to which the cultivation framework can explain the risky sexual behaviors of participants.

  • Citation
  • Authors
Wright, C.L., & Craske, M. (2015). Music’s Influence on Risky Sexual Behaviors: Examining the Cultivation Theory.  Media Psychology Review. Vol. 9(1)
C. Wright

Chrysalis L. Wright, Ph.D. is the Director of the Media & Migration Lab and Faculty member in the psychology department at the University of Central Florida. Her research centers around media (broadly defined) and technological influences on developmental processes and behavior. Her work has been presented at numerous psychological conferences and has been published in such journals as the Journal of Family Issues, Marriage and Family Review, and The Howard Journal of Communications. She can be reached at [email protected].

M. Craske

Michelle Craske recently completed her B.S. degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida and is currently a graduate student in sociology. While a research assistant in the Media & Migration Lab, Michelle completed a Honors in the Major thesis, won 2nd place in the Social Sciences Division at the 2014 Showcase for Undergraduate Research Excellence, and had a total of eleven local and national presentations of her research including a presentation at the annual convention for the Association for Psychological Science. She can be reached at [email protected].

Introduction

With the advances in technology, music is available for listening enjoyment to anyone at any time. Music has been rated the number one leisure-time activity for American youth today (Roberts, Foehr, Rideout & Brodie, 1999) and it has been suggested that almost everyone is exposed to music on a daily basis (Rideout, Roberts, & Foehr, 2005). It has been estimated that adolescents and young adults listen to music between two and four hours each day (Agbo-Quaye & Robertson, 2010; Primack, Nuzzo, Rice, & Sargent, 2012).

The glamor and popularity of music artists may influence fans to adopt imitable roles and precarious sexual scripts, lending support to the cultivation theory (Cohen & Weimann, 2000; Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1994). While minimal research contends that music has no negative effects on listeners perception of sexual relationships and their likelihood of making risky decisions (Sprankle & End, 2009), other research contends that music, specifically rap and hip-hop, have strong correlations with risky sexual behaviors (Chen, Miller, Grube, & Waiters, 2006). This is not too surprising as examinations of media content have found that exposure to sexual messages is more common in music than television (Roberts, Henriksen, & Foehr, 2009). For instance, more than 1/3 of popular songs contain explicit sexual content and 2/3 of these references are degrading (Martino et al., 2006; Primack, Gold, Schwarz, & Dalton, 2008). Lyrics often contain explicit sexual messages (Wallis, 2011) and an estimated 40% to 75% of music videos contain sexual imagery (Turner, 2011; Zhang, Miller, & Harrison, 2008).

Considering the nature of sexual content contained in many forms of music and the heavy listening habits of adolescents and young adults, healthcare professionals show concern that repeated exposure to such content obscures the line between reality and fiction for listeners, taking into consideration current trends in risky sexual behaviors (Agbo-Quaye & Robertson, 2010). Additionally, their concern may have specific cultural implications as the level of sexual content in music varies based on genre (Chen et al., 2006), music preferences vary by race/ethnicity (Brown & Pardun, 2004; Fenster, 1995; Ogbar, 1999; Quin, 1996), and the existing disproportionate rates of teenage pregnancies, STIs, and HIV based on race/ethnicity (CDC, 2013; Hamilton, Martin, & Ventura, 2012; Pflieger, Cook, Niccolai, & Connell, 2013). Recent research demonstrated that R&B, pop, and rap music contain more sexual content in their music and that African Americans preferred these specific genres (Wright & Qureshi, in press). It could be that the disproportionate rates of teenage pregnancies, STIs, and HIV among African Americans are related to their exposure to music that contains high levels of sexual content, implicating that this form of music has more of a cultivating effect for African Americans than those from other ethnic backgrounds (Wright & Qureshi, in press).

While numerous studies have examined risky sexual behaviors using the cultivation framework to explain their findings and conclusions, few have specifically examined the cultivation theory itself. Additionally, while previous research has examined the risky sexual behaviors of emerging adults and the consequences of engaging in such activity, few have examined the relationship between sexual content in music and risky sexual behaviors. The current study is unique in that it examines the association between sexual content in music lyrics and videos and risky sexual behaviors among emerging adults as well as the cultivation frameworks ability to explain such behaviors, taking into consideration the race and ethnicity of participants.

Theoretical Perspective

The current study is grounded in the cultivation theory, which specifically looks at how the media influences perception of reality and states that the more a person is exposed to the media, the more a person begins to believe that what they are exposed to is normal or real (Gerbner et al., 1994). The cultivation framework states that the more people “live” in the media world, the more likely they are to believe that what is portrayed is a reflection of reality (Cohen & Weimann, 2000; Gerbner et al., 1994).

It may be that musicians create a false reality regarding sexual activity and the potential negative effects of engaging in risky sexual behaviors based on how they endorse such behaviors through in their lyrics and videos (Beullens, Roe, & Van, 2012). Listeners are then more likely to make decisions, adopt thinking processes, and behave similar to the content contained in the music they are exposed to (Knobloch-Westerwick, Musto, & Shaw, 2008; Kohn, 1969; 1983).

Risky Sexual Behaviors

Risky sexual behaviors can have serious consequences that include, but are not limited to, unwanted and teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STI), and HIV infection. In fact, the United States is in first place regarding numbers of teenage pregnancies in the developed world (Kearney & Levine, 2012), with the majority of these (57%) births belonging to African American and Hispanic youth (Hamilton et al., 2012). Negative outcomes for both adolescent mother and child have been well documented. Adolescent mothers are more likely to be impoverished and to have diminished social and psychological support. They are more likely to drop out of high school and have low paying jobs (Kearney & Levine, 2012). Their children are more likely to be born prematurely, to have birth complications, and to die during the first year of life. They are more likely to suffer from cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems (Hoffman & Maynard, 2008), to be abused or neglected, to drop out of school themselves, engage in risky behaviors, become sexually active early, and become teenage parents (Kearney & Levine, 2012).

Additionally, STIs and HIV are potential consequences of engagement in risky sexual behaviors. The CDC (2011) report that STIs are a significant health challenge facing the U.S. and it is estimated that nearly 20 million new STIs occur every year in the U.S. alone, with almost half of them (48%) occurring among adolescents and young adults. Furthermore, African American and Hispanic youth are at an increased risk for contracting a STI compared to their Caucasian counterparts (Pflieger et al., 2013). Recent estimates suggest that more than 1.1 million people in the United States are currently living with HIV, with almost 16% of them unaware of their infection. Moreover, African Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV than any other race/ethnicity (CDC, 2013). It has been suggested that these statistics can be directly related to engagement in risky sexual behaviors (Weinstock, Berman, & Cates, 2004).

Music Content

Sexual references are common in music and these references may influence the behaviors of listeners. Turner (2011) found that almost 79% of R&B, 78% of rap, 53% of pop, 37% of rock, and 36% of country music videos contained some form of sexual reference. Additionally, it has been estimated that between 40% and 75% of music videos contain sexual imagery (Zhang, et al., 2008). Additionally, Zhang et al. (2008) found that frequently viewing such music videos is related to more sexually permissive attitudes among listeners. Sexual references occur in music lyrics as well. Lyrics often contain explicit sexual messages and women in music videos are often objectified by being scantily dressed and dancing suggestively and provocatively (Wallis, 2011). Lyrics often contain demeaning messages of men in power over women, sex as a top priority for males, the objectification of women, sexual violence against women, women being defined by having a man, and women not valuing themselves (Bretthauer, Zimmerman, & Banning, 2007; Brummert, Lennings & Warburton, 2011). Additionally, exposure to such messages has been shown to promote risky sexual behaviors (Primack, Douglas, Fine, & Dalton, 2009), particularly among those from non-continuously intact homes (Wright, 2013; Wright & Brandt, in press).

Previous research has documented that the type of sexual references contained in music varies based on the race/ethnicity of the artist. Cougar Hall et al. (2012) classified artists as either Caucasian or non-Caucasian and found that Caucasian artists were more likely to reference kissing, hugging, and embracing where non-Caucasian artists were more likely to make more explicit sexual references. Furthermore, non-Caucasian artists referenced sexual content 21% of the time, compared to 7.5% of the time for Caucasian artists. The nature of sexual content also varies based on genre, with pop music referencing sexual activity in relation to a romantic relationship, rap music containing explicit sexual references, and rock music depicting experimentation involving sexual acts (Agbo-Quays & Robertson, 2010).

Previous Research

Several studies have been conducted on the subject of music influence and risky sexual behaviors. Previous research has examined music with and without a video stimulus, tone, genre, and lyrical content. Even though the majority of previous research is founded on the cultivation framework, there are still conflicting reports concerning the potential influence of music on listeners and fans. For instance, while Kistler and Lee (2010) found evidence that high sexual content in music videos affects male viewers’ perspective of women and gender roles Sprankle and End (2009) found no significant differences between censored and uncensored music on listeners’ feelings or perceptions about sexual activity.

Even so, numerous studies have documented that exposure to sexual content in music is related to expectations regarding sexual activity, sexual initiation, the timing of sexual intercourse, permissive sexual attitudes, and engagement in risky sexual behaviors (Collins, Elliot, & Miu, 2009; L’Engle, Jackson, & Brown, 2006; Pardun, L’Engle, & Brown, 2005; Primack et al., 2009; Wright, 2013). Previous research has found that listening to sexually explicit lyrics is associated with a greater likelihood of initiating intercourse during adolescence (Zhang, et al., 2008) and frequently viewing videos containing sexual imagery is related to more sexually permissive attitudes (Chandra et al., 2008; Zhang et al., 2008). Popular media is believed to play a critical role in the sexual socialization of young people in that adolescents consider the media to be an important tool for learning information about sexual activity and intercourse (Agbo-Quaye & Robertson, 2010; Brown, 2008). Additionally, African American youth may be more vulnerable to the potential negative influences of sexual content in music because they are more likely to view music as an accurate representation of their culture (Travis & Bowman, 2012). This is important to cogitate considering that risky sexual behaviors have been significantly associated with rap music in comparison to other music genres (Chen et al., 2006).

Beneficial Implications

Astronomically high health data statistics suggests that there is a need for re-evaluation of music industry guidelines. Parental advisory warning labels are no longer valid in the digital age. A label on a cd cover is obsolete when the music is listened to on the internet. ‘Censored’ music for the radio has just become bleeped out words that leave the mind to wonder and fill in the blank itself. New measures are also necessary for music videos. The highly sexualized videos fuel aggressive behaviors and permissive sexual attitudes and risky sexual behaviors for both genders. A plethora of research has determined that exposure to sexualized images increases male participant’s negative perceptions about female sexual scripts/roles and risky sexual behaviors (Chen et al., 2006; Kistler & Lee, 2010; Ross & Coleman, 2011; Ward, Epstein, Caruthers & Merriwether, 2011). Reduction in risky sexual behaviors is essential to reducing the number of unwanted and teenage pregnancies, STIs, and HIV.

Chen et al. (2006) state that rap music is one of the largest contributors to health compromising factors in society today. The sexual content in music lyrics and videos impact listeners and fans by normalizing engagement in risky sexual behaviors. Rap music is the most listened to genre of music among African Americans and Hispanics and the second-most listened to genre for Caucasians (Roberts et al., 1999).

The Current Study

A primary goal of this research was to examine how the cultivation framework can be used to explain risky sexual behaviors. Additionally, the current study examined the influence of sexual content in music lyrics and videos on the engagement of risky sexual behaviors among Caucasian, Hispanic, and African Americans participants. Specific risky sexual behaviors examined included age at first boy/girlfriend, age at first date, age at first sexual encounter, age at first sexual intercourse, number of dating partners, number of sexual partners total, number of sexual partners in the past year, casual sexual intercourse, rate of changing sexual partners, and engaging in sexual activity without using a condom.

It was theorized that there would be race and ethnic variations in the engagement of risky sexual behaviors and that a negative association between sexual content via music lyrics and videos and the sexual behaviors of participants would exist. Additionally, it was theorized that the cultivation framework would be better able to explain the engagement in risky sexual behaviors among African American participants than those of other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Method

Participants and Procedure

Participants included 715 college students from a large southeastern public research university who were recruited through their undergraduate psychology courses and received extra credit for completing the 17.61 minute online questionnaire. The mean age of participants was 20.71 years, with a range of 18-48 years old. Participants identified themselves as Caucasian (73.2%, n = 523), African American (9.4%, n = 67), and an additional identified themselves as other (17.5%, n = 125). Additionally, 22.0% of participants (n = 157) identified themselves as Hispanic. The majority of participants (69.8%, n = 499) were female.

Measures

Demographic questionnaire. Participants answered four questions in order to assess their age, sex, ethnicity, and gender.

Dating Behavior Questionnaire. Thirty-three questions were asked to assess the dating and sexual behaviors of participants as well as their perceived dating and sexual behaviors of their peers and friends. Open-ended questions included “How many sexual partners have you had in the past 12 months” and “How many sexual partners do you think people your age have had total.” Another question asked “How frequently do most of your friends change sexual partners,” with response options ranging from 1 (daily) to 7 (longer than once a year).

Exposure to Sexual Content in Music. Participants rated the top 25 music artists from the top-40 charts on how frequently they listened to the artists and watched the artists’ videos. Responses ranged from 1(never) to 5 (daily).

Exposure to sexual content in music lyrics and corresponding videos were based on measures of content analysis using the frequency method for five popular songs performed by the top rated artists by participants using two independent raters. Artists not rated by participants were not analyzed in the current study. Songs for each artist were selected from the top-40 charts that had been given air play on radio stations and music television. Top songs included songs off their most recent album as well as songs from previous albums as radio stations and music television often play current and previous songs and fans often listen to current and previous songs of artists they prefer (Wright & Qureshi, in press).

Raters attended an orientation to content analysis and lyrical and visual categories to be examined, participated in training using the frequency method, and were given practice assignments to check for coding accuracy prior to coding for lyrical and video content used in the current study. This process was implemented to ensure that raters did not change the standards of their coding or alter their proficiency in coding during the process. Raters were given several weeks to complete coding used in the current study to prevent fatigue.

As in previous research (Wright, 2013; 2014; Wright & Brandt, in press; Wright & Qureshi, in press), raters coded for the frequency of the following sexual references: (a) sexual behavior and body language (e.g., intimate touch, hand gestures to sexual acts), (b) sexual language (e.g., talk about sexual encounters, advice regarding sex), and (c) demeaning messages (e.g., objectification of women, sexual violence). This technique was modified from a similar method implemented by Collins, Martino, Elliot, and Miu (2011) in an examination of exposure to sexual content on television. This technique has also been used to examine content within current popular music and its relation to sexual behaviors as well as retrospective behaviors that occurred within the past ten years (Wright, 2013; Wright & Qureshi, in press). Inter-rater reliability for the current study was significant, r (118) = .83, p < .001.

The top artists rated by participants, five selected songs for each artist, and the average sexual content in both lyrics and videos for selected songs can be found in Table 1. Please note the year of release for each song and that the amount sexual references contained in lyrics and videos have not changed substantially for the artists. Exposure variables were then created for exposure to sexual references via lyrics and videos by multiplying self-reported listening and viewing habits of each of the top rated artists by the average content contained in song lyrics and music videos. This technique, too, was modified from that used by Collins et al. (2011) and was recently used to assess sexual content in music (Wright, 2013; 2014; Wright & Qureshi, in press). Because participants in the current study reported listening to a variety of music, rather than specific music genres, total exposure variables were created by summing the lyrical and video content across the artists that participants’ reported exposure to. The total exposure variables for music lyrics and videos were used in analysis.

Table 1. Sexual References in Lyrics and Videos

Wright Table 1

Results

Preliminary analyses were conducted to assess the reliability, distributional characteristics, and intercorrelations of measures and the extent of missing data. Missing data were minimal (< 3%) for most variables and were found to be missing completely at random (MCAR). Therefore, a simple mean substitution imputation method was used (Kline, 2005). This method involves replacing the missing data with the overall mean value for the variable. There is the possibility that replacing missing data in this manner can distort the distribution of the data. However, it had no detectable effect on this dataset. This method of handling missing data is preferable to deletion methods as it allows for complete case analyses, does not reduce the statistical power of tests, and takes into consideration the reason for missing data (Twala, 2009). Moreover, this method of data imputation is a good representation of the original data as long as the missing data is less than 20%, which was the case in this study (Downey & King, 1998).

Analyses relevant to the study aims are described in the following sections. These include         (a) multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) to determine variations in risky sexual behaviors based on race and ethnicity, (b) hierarchical regression analyses of the relation between demographic characteristics (race/ethnicity, gender) and sexual content exposures via music lyrics and videos to the risky sexual behaviors of participants, and (c) a series of repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVAs) to examine the cultivation theory.

Variations in Risky Sexual Behaviors

A MANOVA was conducted to determine if there were variations in risky sexual behaviors based on race and ethnicity (i.e., Caucasian, African American, Hispanic) of participants. Risky sexual behaviors examined included age at first boy/girlfriend, age at first date, age at first sexual encounter, age at first sexual intercourse, number of dating partners, number of sexual partners total, number of sexual partners in the past year, casual sexual intercourse, rate of changing sexual partners, and engaging in sexual activity without using a condom. Results indicated race and ethnic variations for age at first sexual encounter, F (2, 650) = 5.24, p = .006, age at first sexual intercourse, F (2, 650) = 8.66, p < .001, number of dating partners, F (2, 650) = 3.07, p = .04, and casual sexual intercourse, F (2, 650) = 3.91, p = .02. Comparison of means indicated that African American participants reported engaging in their first sexual encounter and first sexual activity earlier (M = 12.58, SD = 6.61; M = 10.48, SD = 8.04, respectively) than Caucasian (M = 14.64, SD = 4.58; M = 14.07, SD = 6.48, respectively) and Hispanic participants (M = 14.45, SD = 5.34; M = 14.08, SD = 6.92, respectively). However, Caucasian participants reported having more dating partners (M = 4.52, SD = 4.71) than Hispanic (M = 3.06, SD = 2.20) and African American participants (M = 4.19, SD = 4.54). Results also indicated that African American participants reported engaging in more casual sexual encounters (M = 2.93, SD = 1.64) than their Caucasian (M = 2.43, SD = 1.35) and Hispanic counterparts (M = 2.57, SD = 1.40). No other racial and ethnic variations were found for risky sexual behaviors.

Predicting Risky Sexual Behaviors

Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted to determine how race and ethnicity, gender, and exposure to sexual content via music lyrics and videos combined to predict the risky sexual behaviors of participants. Dummy coded variables for race and ethnicity (i.e., Hispanic, African American, Caucasian) were entered into step 1 of the regression equation and participant gender was entered into step 2 of the model as a covariate. Step 3 of the model included variables for sexual content in music via lyrics and videos that were transformed into z scores in order to standardize the variables. The last step of the model included interaction terms of interest (i.e., Race/Ethnicity X Music Lyrics, Race/Ethnicity X Music Videos). Results of the significant hierarchical regression analyses can be found in Table 2.

Table 2. Regression Coefficients for Risky Sexual Behaviors
Wright Table 2

***p < .001, **p < .01, *p < .05, #p < .10 or less. a: only significant interaction effects reported Note: Unstandardized coefficients are reported considering that the standardized coefficients are not correctly standardized for interaction terms and are difficult to interpret (Cohen, Cohen, West, & Aiken, 2003).

 

Results of the current study were somewhat mixed in terms of engagement in risky sexual behaviors based on race/ethnicity. Caucasian participants were more likely to report being older at their first sexual encounter and sexual intercourse. However, they reported more dating and sexual partners as well as more casual sexual encounters. Conversely, they were less likely to report engaging in sexual activity without a condom. Additionally, female participants reported engaging in sexual activity with fewer partners in the past 12 months compared to males but reported changing their sexual partner more frequently than males. Sexual content via music lyrics and videos partially explained participants’ age at their first sexual encounter, number of sexual partners in the past 12 months, rate of changing sexual partners, and condom use. Support for sexual content exposure in music as a moderator between race and ethnicity and risky sexual behaviors were only found for participants’ age at first sexual intercourse.

Examining Cultivation Theory

Considering that the cultivation theory states that the more a person is exposed to the media the more a person begins to believe that what they are exposed to is normal (Gerbner, et al., 1994), the current study tested the cultivation theory by comparing participants responses to their sexual behaviors and their perceived sexual behaviors of their friends and peers. The current study conducted a series of repeated measures ANOVAs and hypothesized that participants viewed their behavior as normal if no significant differences were found between their own sexual behaviors and their perceived sexual behaviors of friends and peers. Additionally, to examine the implication for cultivation theory based on race and ethnicity, the analyses were conducted separately for Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic participants. Results of the analyses can be found in Table 3.

Table 3. Repeated Measures ANOVA Results for Cultivation Theory
Wright Table 3

Note: Significant levels > .05 indicate the normalization of behavior based on Cultivation theory (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli, 1994).

Results of the current study did not support the normalization of risky sexual behaviors based on cultivation theory. However, the cultivation theory was able to explain some of the sexual behaviors of participants. For instance, it appears that age at dating initiation and age at first sexual encounter are behaviors that are normalized for Caucasian participants. Age at first boy/girlfriend is the only behavior that is normalized for Hispanic participants in the current study. For African American participants, age at first boy/girlfriend, age at first date, age at first sexual encounter, and condom use are normalized sexual behaviors, demonstrating that the cultivation theory is best able to explain the sexual behaviors of African American participants’ in comparison to their Caucasian and Hispanic counterparts.

Discussion

The current study intended to examine how the cultivation framework can be used to explain risky sexual behaviors. The current study also assessed the influence of sexual content in music lyrics and videos on the engagement of risky sexual behaviors among Caucasian, Hispanic, and African Americans participants.

Sexual Behaviors of Participants

Differences in dating and sexual behaviors were found based on race/ethnicity of participants. African American participants reported engaging in their first sexual encounter and first sexual activity earlier than both Caucasian and Hispanic participants as well as engaging in more casual sexual encounters. However, Caucasian participants reported having more dating partners than Hispanic and African American participants. These early dating and sexual behaviors may partially explain the disproportionate numbers of African Americans and Hispanics who experience teenage and unwanted pregnancies and contract STIs and HIV at a higher rate than other ethnic groups in the United States (CDC, 2013; Hamilton et al., 2012; Pflieger et al., 2013).

Music Content and Risky Sexual Behaviors

In line with previous research, it was theorized that there would be a negative association between the sexual content contained in music lyrics and videos and the dating and sexual behaviors of participants (Collins, et al., 2009; L’Engle, et al., 2006; Pardun, et a., 2005; Primack, et al., 2009; Wright, 2013; Wright & Brandt, in press; Wright & Qureshi, in press). Specific risky sexual behaviors examined in the current study included age at first boy/girlfriend, age at first date, age at first sexual encounter, age at first sexual intercourse, number of dating partners, number of sexual partners total, number of sexual partners in the past year, casual sexual intercourse, rate of changing sexual partners, and engaging in sexual activity without using a condom.

Participant race/ethnicity and gender were found to be significant contributors to several of the dating and sexual behaviors examined in the current study. Results of the current study were somewhat mixed in terms of engagement in risky sexual behaviors based on race/ethnicity. For instance, Caucasian participants were more likely to report being older at their first sexual encounter and sexual intercourse. However, they reported more dating and sexual partners as well as more casual sexual encounters. Conversely, they were less likely to report engaging in sexual activity without a condom. These results are interesting as African Americans and Hispanics experience more teenage pregnancies and an increased number of STIs and HIV infections compared to those from other ethnic backgrounds (CDC, 2013; Hamilton et al., 2012; Pflieger et al., 2013). Additionally, female participants reported engaging in sexual activity with fewer partners in the past 12 months compared to males but reported changing their sexual partner more frequently than males. This was not necessarily surprising, considering the types of sexual messages that are found in many songs across genres (Bretthauer et al., 2007).

Of particular interest in the current study were the association between sexual content in music lyrics and videos and the dating and sexual behaviors of participants. Because participants in the current study reported listening to a variety of music, rather than specific music genres, total exposure to sexual content across music lyrics and videos were used in analyses. Results indicated that sexual content via music lyrics and videos partially explained participants’ age at their first sexual encounter, number of sexual partners in the past 12 months, rate of changing sexual partners, and condom use. Support for sexual content exposure in music as a moderator between participant race/ethnicity and risky sexual behaviors were found for participants’ age at first sexual intercourse.

These findings support that of previous research in that exposure to music containing sexual content is associated with engagement in risky sexual behaviors (Chen et al., 2006; Collins et al., 2004; Collins, et al., 2009; L’Engle, et al., 2006; Pardun, et al., 2005; Primack, et al., 2009; Wright, 2013; 2014; Wright & Brandt, in press; Wright & Qureshi, in press; Zhang et al., 2008). These results are particularly interesting when taking into account the moderator effect of sexual content in music on the association between participant race/ethnicity and engagement in risky sexual behaviors. Considering the cultivation framework, it may be that sexual content in music has more of a cultivating effect for African Americans than those from other ethnic backgrounds (Wright & Qureshi, in press) because they are more likely to view music as an accurate representation of their culture (Travis & Bowman, 2012).

Examining Cultivation Theory

Considering that the cultivation theory states that the more a person is exposed to the media the more a person begins to believe that what they are exposed to is normal (Cohen & Weimann, 2000; Gerbner, et al., 1994), the current study tested the cultivation theory by comparing participants responses to their sexual behaviors and their perceived sexual behaviors of their friends and peers separately for Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic participants. The current study hypothesized that participants viewed their behavior as normal if no significant differences were found between their own sexual behaviors and their perceived sexual behaviors of friends and peers.

Results of the current study, however, do not support the overall normalization of risky sexual behaviors based on the cultivation theory. When examining participants reported sexual behaviors and their perceived sexual behaviors of their friends and peers, the majority of results were significant, indicating that participants did not view their behavior as normal (Gerbner, Gross, et al., 1994). These significant findings indicated that participants were aware that the majority of their sexual behaviors deviated from their peers and friends.

However, the cultivation theory was able to explain some of the sexual behaviors of participants. For instance, it appears that age at dating initiation and age at first sexual encounter are behaviors that are normalized for Caucasian participants. Age at first boy/girlfriend is the only behavior that is normalized for Hispanic participants in the current study. For African American participants, age at first boy/girlfriend, age at first date, age at first sexual encounter, and condom use are normalized sexual behaviors, demonstrating that the cultivation theory is better able to explain some of the sexual behaviors of African American participants’ in comparison to participants from other ethnic backgrounds.

These findings are not surprising considering the work of Travis and Bowman (2012), who speculated that African Americans may be more likely to view music as an accurate representation of their culture. Considering that musicians may create a false reality regarding sexual activity and the potential negative effects of engaging in such behaviors based on how they endorse risky sexual behaviors in their lyrics and videos (Beullens, et al., 2012), African American listeners in particular may be more likely to make decisions, adopt thinking processes, and behave similar to the content contained in the music they are exposed to (Knobloch-Westerwick, et al., 2008; Kohn, 1969; 1983). Additionally, previous research has demonstrated that they type of sexual content in music varies based on the race/ethnicity of the artist (Couger Hall et. al, 2012) as well as music genre (Agbo-Quays & Robertson, 2010) with both non-Caucasian artists and rap music containing more explicit sexual references.

Limitations of Study and Implications for Future Research

There are some limitations of the current study that merit discussion. Some specific hypothesized links were marginally significant for both the hierarchical regression analyses and assessment of cultivation theory. The sample used was a college population, representing a distinct group of emerging adults. Also, the survey was administered online which may have interfered with how participants responded to questions. Future research should include a social desirability question in order to help assess the honesty of participants in regards to their sexual histories. Data also consisted of single-item, retrospective data. The current study could not assess change in participants or establish a cause and effect relationship between variables. It should also be noted that a directionality issue exists, which should be taken into consideration when interpreting the results.

While it seems evident that sexual content in music is associated with risky sexual behaviors of listeners, the specific direction of this relationship remains unspecified. Results do not demonstrate that sexual content in music has a direct effect on dating and sexual behaviors. It is also possible that listeners select music that reflects their personal interests and experiences or that music selection and music content have a bidirectional relationship with each other. Future research should examine the various forms of sexual content in music and its association with dating and sexual behaviors in order to determine a directionality of the relationship.

Additionally, while the examination of the cultivation framework was better able to explain some of the sexual behaviors of African Americans results from this study are non-conclusive and do not imply a cause and effect relationship. Additionally, the cultivation theory was not a good explanation for the relationship among sexual content in music and the risky sexual behaviors of Caucasian and Hispanic participants. Future research should examine other theoretical foundations in this area, such as the Social Cognitive framework, that could potentially serve as a better explanation for this relationship.

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[1] Author Note

Chrysalis L. Wright, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida.

The data presented, the statements made, and the views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Chrysalis L. Wright, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida, South Lake Campus, 1250 North Hancock Road, Clermont, FL 34711. E-mail: [email protected].