In what seems to be a clear example of confusing correlation with causation, a study has concluded that because kids who are more sexually active listen to music with sexual lyrics, then the music is causing the sexual activity.
Teens who said they listened to lots of music with degrading sexual messages were almost twice as likely to start having intercourse or other sexual activities within the following two years as were teens who listened to little or no sexually degrading music.
Among heavy listeners, 51 percent started having sex within two years, versus 29 percent of those who said they listened to little or no sexually degrading music.
Exposure to lots of sexually degrading music "gives them a specific message about sex," said lead author Steven Martino, a researcher for Rand Corp. in Pittsburgh. Boys learn they should be relentless in pursuit of women and girls learn to view themselves as sex objects, he said.
Of course, the notion that perhaps -- just perhaps -- kids who are more likely to be sexually active are more likely to seek out and appreciate more sexually-vivid music never makes it into the study's headlines.
But wait, they have confirmation!
"A lot of teens think that's the way they're supposed to be, they think that's the cool thing to do. Because it's so common, it's accepted," said Ramsey, a teen editor for Sexetc.org, a teen sexual health Web site produced at Rutgers University.
"Teens will try to deny it, they'll say 'No, it's not the music,' but it IS the music. That has one of the biggest impacts on our lives," Ramsey said.
So there you have it on authority of a teen. The music makes them do it.
Okay, snark aside, I don't doubt that music can have an influence. But life is a lot more complicated than simple equations of 1-to-1 relationships such as these researchers would have us believe.
Benjamin Chavis, chief executive officer of the Hip-Hip Summit Action Network, a coalition of hip-hop musicians and recording industry executives, said explicit music lyrics are a cultural expression that reflect "social and economic realities."
"We caution rushing to judgment that music more than any other factor is a causative factor" for teens initiating sex, Chavis said.
I'm not a defender of the misogynistic, ultraviolent lyrics in so much popular music, nor its celebratory wrapping around such emotions. But can we lay rape and murder by teens at the feet of music?
Yvonne K. Fulbright, a New York-based sex researcher and author, said factors including peer pressure, self-esteem and home environment are probably more influential than the research suggests.
"It's a little dangerous to just pinpoint one thing. You have to look at everything that's going on in a young person's life," she said. "When somebody has a healthy sense of themselves, they don't take these lyrics too seriously."
The study's conclusions, at least as reported by the AP, represent sloppy science. Correlation is not causation. That's the first thing you learn in middle school science class (or at least that was taught back when I went to school and when it was called 'junior high').