Listening to rap music frequently can lead to having early sex in teenagers, warn researchers, adding that rap music is more likely to have sexually explicit messages than other music genres.
According to researchers from the University of Texas’ health science center at Houston — UTHealth — when middle school youth listen to rap music for three or more hours each day, they are more likely to believe that their peers are having sex and subsequently more likely to initiate sex by ninth grade.
“Rap music influences your beliefs about what you think your peers are doing. It’s a norming agent that tells you that certain things are okay — like drinking alcohol or having sex. It gives you the idea that everyone is doing it,” said Kimberly Johnson-Baker, lead author and faculty associate at UTHealth’s school of public health. “The more you’re listening to it, the more you’re conforming. So, you could see how it would set up a belief about what your peers are doing,” Johnson-Baker added.
In an analysis of 443 youth enrolled in a longitudinal evaluation study in Houston, middle school students were surveyed about how often they listened to rap music and whether they believed their peers were having sex. At follow up in ninth grade, the same youth were surveyed about whether they had initiated sex.
Youth who listened to rap music three hours or more each day in seventh grade were 2.6 times more likely to report having had sex two years later.
However, researchers found that the association was partially mediated by perceived peer sexual behaviour because youth who believed their peers were having sex were 2.5 times more likely to initiate sex, regardless of the additional factors. Johnson-Baker emphasised that when adolescents hear sexually explicit messages in a song, they are looking to their friends to confirm whether such behaviour is happening around them.
If their friends confirm it, youth are more likely to initiate sex. But if friends are being critical of the themes in the music, they may be convinced that it’s not happening around them. “Perceived peer sex is the most powerful predictor of future sex, and addressing perceived peer behaviour with youth is really important,” Johnson-Baker noted in a paper published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Rap music and forms of progressive hip-hop education can be used as tools to deconstruct sexually explicit messages adolescents receive. “Parents can play a more proactive role by having open conversations with their kids regarding the themes in rap music while setting clear expectations for responsible sexual and dating behaviour,” the authors noted.
In her next phase of research, Johnson-Baker is set to study how listening to rap music in fifth grade influences perceptions of peers and sexual initiation later on.