A Summary of the Task Force Report on the Sexualization of Popular Music


Chrysalis L. Wright, PhD
University of Central Florida,

Francesca Dillman Carpentier, PhD
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

Lesley-Ann Ey, PhD
University of South Australia
Adelaide, Australia

Cougar Hall, PhD
Brigham Young University

K. Megan Hopper, PhD
Illinois State University

Wayne Warburton, PhD
Macquarie University
Sydney, Australia


Sarah Coyne, PhD
Brigham Young University

Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, PhD
University of Arizona

L. Monique Ward, PhD
University of Michigan

C. Glenn Cupit, PhD
University of South Australia
Adelaide, Australia

In 2016 APA’s Division 46 (Society for Media Psychology & Technology) established the Task Force on the Sexualization of Popular Music. Members of the Task Force are located in the United States and internationally. The Task Force is also interdisciplinary, with members having expertise and background in psychology, communication, education, and health. Expert researchers who had conducted ground breaking research in this area were also consulted. These consultants, located within the United States and internationally, had expertise in psychology, health, communication, and education.

The Task Force intended to (a) expand the review of current research in the area of music influences, (b) review current guidelines pertaining to music regulation, production, and airing, (c) summarize the history of music guidelines and research on the sexualization of popular music, (d) identify ethnic/racial, gender, biological sex, social class, and age differences, strengths, and vulnerabilities to sexualization relative to exposure to popular music, and (e) provide recommendations for popular music media education and literacy as well as policy and music industry recommendations. The Task Force has accomplished these goals in their final report.

In this report, the Task Force defined sexualization, in accordance with the definition provided by the APA’s 2007 Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls report. Sexualization occurs when one or more of the following occur: (a) a person’s value is derived solely from sexual appearance or sexual behaviors, (b) physical attractiveness is considered equivalent to being sexy, (c) a person is considered an object for another person’s sexual use, or is sexually objectified, and/or (d) sexuality is inappropriately imposed on another person.

The Task Force focused specifically on music media, examining popular music (Top Charts) and music lyrics, music videos, and more recent ways that music artists presented their brand to consumers. Music content was considered sexualized if it met these criteria for sexualization.

The Task Force identified literature published since 1969 related to sexualization of music and its potential influence on consumers. While the report largely focuses on the analysis of music in the U.S. and Australia, hopefully, it also provides insight to an international audience. The Task Force reviewed all relevant research, considered exceptional contributions of various methodological approaches, and determined which research conclusions were supported by multiple research designs. Thus, the report includes a review of research studies that used qualitative and quantitative designs, experimental, cross-sectional, and longitudinal designs as well as meta-analytic reviews. Large and small sample studies were included. Each approach aided in providing a more thorough representation of the sexualization of popular music.

Limitations of Research

Research on the sexualization of popular music is somewhat challenging and includes gaps and weaknesses in the empirical research that has been conducted to date. The various studies reviewed measured sexual content and music sexualization somewhat differently, leading to generalization and interpretation difficulties. Additionally, while some experimental and longitudinal studies have been conducted, the vast majority of research is correlational, making causal implications difficult. It was difficult to determine the directionality of a relationship among the variables examined. Nonetheless, findings related to the impact of sexualized music are important. Relationships found in correlational research can be tested further using experimental and longitudinal designs. Conflicting findings can be resolved by implementing different research approaches (van IJzandoorn & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2012; Wong et al., 2015).

Research in this area is extremely heteronormative in nature and fails to consider how sexualized music influences LGBTQA consumers. The majority of research also focuses on outcomes related more-so to women. This is an important oversight as popular music frequently includes depictions of men in both lyrical and visual content. Historically men have outnumbered women in music videos (Andsager & Roe, 2003; Gow, 1996). It is recommended that research in this area expand on the amount and impact of objectification and sexualization of both men and women artists on sexual health outcomes related to both sexes.

Current Characteristics of Sexualized Music

Research has found that women are frequently sexualized and objectified within music videos (e.g., Flynn et al., 2016). Additional themes related to sexual references in music include women engaging in implicit sexual behaviors (Somers-Flanagan et al., 1993), sex as a priority for men, sexual violence, women defined by having a man (Bretthauer et al., 2007), female artists using increased sexual references in music compared to male artists (Dukes et al., 2003), simulated sexual acts, and sexual innuendos (Andsager & Roe, 2003). Music genre differences in sexual references have also been found with Hip Hop, rap, soul, and pop music containing higher levels of sexualization compared to other music genres (e.g., Holody et al., 2016). Music in the U.S. contains the most sexual content when compared to other forms of media (Pardun et al., 2005) and that sexual content is much more common in the U.S. compared to other countries (Vandenbosch et al., 2013). Additionally, by examining studies that have looked at the intensity and frequency of sexual content in music, it can be concluded that sexual content in music has evolved over time, from focusing on love and sex in 1971 (Cole) to simulated sexual acts, sexual innuendos, and provocative clothing in 2003 (Andsager & Roe) to sexual objectification, provocative dancing, and fondling of the self and others in 2013 (Ward et al.).

Conclusion & Recommendations

After reviewing more than 250 research articles, reports, and policy statements related to sexualized music and consumers between 1969 and 2018, the Task Force has concluded the following:

  1. Exposure to sexualized music may be impacting children and young people’s identity and gender role development (e.g., Gonzalez de Rivas et al., 2009), stereotypical gender role attitudes, sex role stereotypic schemas, and gender ideals (e.g., ter Bogt et al., 2010). Exposure to sexualized music may also lead to premature sexualization of young children (Ey & Cupit, 2013).
  2. Exposure to sexualized music is related to self-objectification among adolescent girls, which is then related to body esteem, dieting patterns, anxiety levels, and mathematical performance (Grabe & Hyde, 2009). Sexualized music is also related to the development of beauty ideals, body surveillance (Vandenbosch & Eggermont, 2012), and negative self-perceptions (e.g., Bell et al., 2007).
  3. Exposure to sexualized music is related positively to the endorsement of sexually permissive attitudes for adolescent girls and women (e.g., Zhang et al., 2008) as well as the acceptance of sex-role stereotypes and negative beliefs and attitudes toward women (e.g., ter Bogt et al., 2010) and social judgments regarding potential romantic partners and dating behaviors (e.g., Gueguen et al., 2010).
  4. Exposure to sexualized music is associated with risky sexual behaviors (e.g., Coyne & Padilla-Walker, 2015). However, the effect of sexualized music varies based on music genre with rap, hip hop, pop, and R&B having more of an effect compared to other genres (e.g., Wright & Rubin, 2017).
  5. Exposure to sexualized music may be a factor that contributes to reduced respect for women (e.g., Aubrey et al., 2011) and attitudes approving of sexual violence and sexually aggressive behavior (e.g., Kistler & Lee, 2009). Fischer and Greitemeyer (2006) reported that these attitudes can translate into actual aggressive behavior.

Based on current literature and their conclusions, the Task Force offers specific recommendations regarding public policy, public awareness, the music industry, education systems, future research, and popular music media literacy.

The Task Force calls for legislative bodies and policy makers to consider research in this area when proposing and developing public policy related to music consumption. The implementation of a rating system for popular music is recommended. The Task Force asks the APA to advocate for improvements in education and to aid in the development and distribution of resources related to the consumption of popular and sexualized music not only to the public but also specifically to educators, health care providers, and parents. The Task Force also recommends that the music industry consider updating the parental advisory label, aim to reduce sexualized music and increase music content that counters stereotypes and increases positivity and pro-social skills.

The Task Force calls for researchers to examine the effects of sexualized music on men as well as members of the LGBTQA community. It is recommended that research be conducted more globally, as most research in this area has been conducted in the United States and Australia. The Task Force also recommends that future research in this area be sponsored by government agencies and focus on identifying vulnerabilities related to negative effects of exposure to sexualized music.

The Task Force calls for formal education regarding music media to be included in curricula, beginning at an early age and continuing at every grade level. A particular focus of the Task Force is popular music media literacy, which is viewed as the ideal method of providing awareness and promoting best consumer practices regarding music consumption. The recommendations of the Task Force in this area outline how popular music media literacy can be implemented to include aspects of understanding, analysis, and reflection of music content based on development as well as providing protectionist avenues for parents and educators.

(For complete report see: https://www.apadivisions.org/division-46/publications/popular-music-sexualization.pdf)


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