Professors publish research on sexualization in lyrics


For years, artists in the music industry have competed to have their songs top the charts. Artists’ greatest hits are played on radios and heard through the headphones of many worldwide. Two BYU professors in the Health Science Department took these top charts through the years and examined the sexualization found in the lyrics.

In 2007, the American Psychological Association called for additional research on the depiction of women in the media. Professors P. Cougar Hall and Josh West began researching how women are depicted in non-traditional sexual roles within the scope of music.

Hall and West studied the Billboard Hot 100 year-end songs from the last six decades. Using this sample, they coded the frequency in which females were referred to in a sexual way or as sexual objects.

“The problem is girls are depicted as objects for sexual pleasure instead of girls operating and deciding what their sexual role and value is in society,” West said.

Through research, the professors found that in 2009, the number of times a woman was referred to in a sexual way was dramatically higher than in years previous. Research also showed an increase in the frequency of references to sex in lyrics.

“There is not just a quantitative difference, but a qualitative difference too,” West said. “Elvis singing ‘A Big Hunk o’ Love’ in 1959 is very different than the content in Lil Wayne’s music today.”

Popular hits are listened to everywhere, and many believe the lyrics of songs send a message about sexuality in society.

“When people sing songs that have bad content, it makes [those behaviors] seem normal,” said Tyler Hunt, a local high school student from Cedar Hills. “Popular songs are catchy and the bad lyrics get stuck in your head.”

The professors discovered that even though there is more sexualization of women in lyrics today, there is an even bigger difference in the non-beneficial relationship. Women are referred to more frequently in a sexual way versus previous decades where both males and females were referred to together.

“The problem is not that there are references to sex in the music, but that it is not a mutual relationship,” West said. “The problem is that the lyrics are communicating a norm that your value as a person is dependent on your sexuality.”

With this seemingly false sense of identity becoming more prominent in today’s society, some BYU students strive to counteract the sexual messages sent in lyrics by helping students realize their own value in being children of God.

“I am grateful I go to a school that helps me understand my value as a daughter of God,” said Jessica Bassett, a junior studying elementary education.

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