Here's the latest in a never-ending series of poorly designed studies that prove nothing but manage to generate news stories and calls for government action:
In an unusual piece of research, investigators at the University of Pittsburgh graded the sexual aggressiveness of lyrics, using songs by popular artists on the US Billboard chart.
The lyrics were graded from the least to the most sexually degrading.
They then asked 711 students aged 15 to 16 at three local high schools about their music preferences and their sexual behaviour.
Overall, 31 percent of the teens had had intercourse.
But the rate was only 20.6 percent among those who had been least exposed to sexually degrading lyrics but 44.6 percent among those highly exposed to the most degrading lyrics.
This research barely makes out of the gate before breaking its leg. The use of the passive voice (least exposed to…highly exposed to…) suggests that the kids in the study are victims when in fact they are describing their musical preferences. That is, they're exposing themselves to different types of music. And apart from anything else, it seems highly likely that the kids who are most into sex are likely to be listening to more sexually "aggresive" or "degrading" music (defined as having "lyrics describing degrading sex tend to portray sex as expected, direct and uncomplicated").
Correlation doesn't imply causation, as even the lead researcher seems to acknowledge:
The study's lead author, Brian Primack, said music by itself was not the direct spark for sex but helped mould perception and was thus "likely to be a factor" in sexual development.
As for the call for government action, blame Canada this time:
"Government needs to help parents to regulate the industry," said Helen Ward, president of the Kids First Parents Association of Canada.
Curiously, the story trots out stats about teenage pregnancies and STDs, but doesn't provide trend lines.
More than 750,000 American teenagers become pregnant each year, giving the United States one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in the rich world, according to figures quoted in the study. Nearly a quarter of all female teenagers in the United States have a sexually-transmitted disease.
Why no trend lines? Probably because they undercut the study's conclusions. Sex rates among high schoolers have been going down over a period of time when music (and every other aspect of popular culture) has been becoming more sexually explicit. High schoolers who report having ever had sex have dropped from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2005. And teen pregnancies have declined over the same period as well.