Houston, Feb 29: Teenagers who listen to rap music frequently are more likely to initiate sex early, according to a new US study that suggests rap music influences beliefs about what youth think their peers are doing.
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, researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston (UTHealth) said.
Previous studies has shown that sexually explicit media, with extreme or subtle references to permissive sexual behaviour, has an impact on sexual behaviour among youth and that rap music is more likely to have sexually explicit messages than other genres, researchers said.
In a secondary analysis of 443 predominantly black and Hispanic 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.
The association became weaker when factors like age, gender and perceived peer behaviour were taken into account.
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.
"Rap music influences your beliefs about what you think your peers are doing," said Kimberly Johnson-Baker, lead author, from the UTHealth School of Public Health.
"It's a norming agent that tells you that certain things are ok, like drinking alcohol or having sex. It gives you the idea that everyone is doing it," said Johnson-Baker. "And 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," said Kimberly Johnson-Baker.
Researchers said 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 is not happening around them, researchers said.
"Perceived peer sex is the most powerful predictor of future sex and addressing perceived peer behaviour with youth is really important," Johnson-Baker said.
"Rap music and forms of progressive hip-hop education can be used as tools to deconstruct sexually explicit messages adolescents receive," Johnson-Baker added. The findings were published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.