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.
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Smiler, A.P., Shewmaker, J.W. & Hearon, B. From “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to “Promiscuous”: Sexual Stereotypes in Popular Music Lyrics, 1960–2008. Sexuality & Culture 21, 1083–1105 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-017-9437-7
- Mass media
- Sexual norms
- Gender roles
- Sexual objectification