Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 1083–1105 | Cite as

From “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to “Promiscuous”: Sexual Stereotypes in Popular Music Lyrics, 1960–2008

  • Andrew P. SmilerEmail author
  • Jennifer W. Shewmaker
  • Brittany Hearon
Original Paper


Media content analyses indicate that gender-based differences in sexuality are common and consistent with gender stereotypes. Specifically, women are expected to focus on love and romantic relationships and have sexually objectified bodies, while men are expected to focus on sexual behavior. Although decades of research have documented the presence of these stereotypes in a broad variety of visual media, much less is known about the content of popular music lyrics. Relying on a database of 1250 songs across five decades (the top 50 songs from even-numbered years from 1960 through 2008), we documented the presence or absence of a dating relationship, the word “love” (and its uses), sexual activity, and sexual objectification of females and males (separately). Analyses revealed that the vast majority of songs addressed at least one of these themes, primarily dating relationships. Although female performers were proportionally more likely to address romantic relationships than male performers, raw counts reversed this pattern because male performers substantially outnumbered female performers. Males were proportionally more likely to sing about sexual behavior and to objectify both females and males. References to romantic relationships became less common over time, while references to sexual behavior and objectified bodies became more common. Content varied across genres, with rap being the least likely to reference dating and most likely to reference sexual behavior. Implications for sexual development are discussed.


Mass media Sexual norms Gender roles Sexual objectification Dating 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest regarding the production of this paper. No grant or award money was used to support development of this paper in any way.

Human and Animal Rights

The authors affirm that the rights of humans and animals were protected during the research and writing phases of this paper.

Informed Consent

This paper relied on information available in the public domain. No data or personal information was collected directly from any individual during the development of this paper. Accordingly, consent was neither requested or obtained.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent ResearcherWinston-SalemUSA
  2. 2.Abilene Christian UniversityAbileneUSA
  3. 3.University of South FloridaTampaUSA

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