A cross-cultural reading of popular music in the construction of sexual expression among at-risk adolescents

Age ain’t nothing but a number: a cross-cultural reading of popular music in the construction of sexual expression among at-risk adolescents

Polly E. McLean


Every culture, whether implicitly or explicitly, delineates what is appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior. Likewise, every culture has its own unique set of configurations about gender differences, potentials for sexuality, and rules and ethos of sexual conduct, as well as a system of symbols that communicates the culture’s values about sex (Davenport 201; Kon 237).

In the United States the basic social institutions (family, religious, legal, economic) have been primarily responsible for setting the rules and limits that govern sexual expression. However, few limits except voluntary parental music advisory labels and film rating scales govern the cultural industries. In recent years, these industries have been perceived either as important sex educators or as negatively influencing the behavior of young people by causing violence and sexual irresponsibility. Of all the cultural industries, the preponderance of these attacks has been aimed at the music industry (Carlough 16; Davidson 38; Dority 35; Hamerlinck 23).

Previous adolescent music research has focused on adolescents’ socialization and cognitive development (Desmond; Greenfield et al.); listening habits and consumption patterns (Bleich, Zillman, and Weaver; Rosenbaum and Prinsky; Wells and Hakanen); perceptions and interpretations of music television (Bennett and Ferell; Christenson; Hansen and Hansen; Roberts; Sun and Lull; Walker); and the relationship between music preference and sex, violence, drug abuse, satanic worship, and suicide (Arnett; Dent et al.; Litman and Farberow; Martin et al.; Popper and Ness; Trostle; Trzcinski; Wass et al.; Wooten). The bulk of this research tends to be governed by the belief that adolescents are primarily passive consumers unable to create their own symbolic meaning in content. As a result, most of the adolescent music research draws on attitude measurement methods, experimental designs, the effects paradigm, and social learning theory to explain music preference as an indicator of adolescents’ vulnerability (Chapman and Williams 61-72).

Not surprisingly, the majority of these studies have either ignored adolescents of color or have subsumed them within cross sections of majority populations. However, with the emergence of rap, researchers are beginning to pay attention to ethnicity (Berry 89-107; Binder 753-67; Epstein et al. 381-94; Kuwahara 54-73; Powell 245-59). To date there has been little written about at-risk African American or Latino adolescents and the use of music to construct ideas of sexual expression.

The label “at-risk” is used in this study to describe young people who live in major urban centers where poverty and unemployment rates are high, and drugs and violent crimes are commonplace; who are likely to become teenage parents; and who experience high stress factors that affect both home and school environments as well as family functioning (Winfield 5). Furthermore, because of early and unprotected sexual involvement, many are at-risk for sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS (Legion et al. 11).

As with their cohorts in other socioeconomic and cultural groups, at-risk adolescents of color live in a media-rich environment. Participant observation and interviews suggest that their homes are equipped with multiple radios and television sets; many have access to cable television and videocassette technology; most carry their own personal music accessories such as Walkmans, portable AM/FM/CD cassette players and Discmans; and their cars are often a mega music enclave equipped with kickers and state-of-the-art CD/cassette players. They are also ardent consumers of film. Their cultural milieu includes not only the three media–television, film, and music–but also various genres within each medium.

Through the use of ethnographic research techniques, this study looks at how at-risk, coitally active African American and Latino adolescents use music texts to construct ideas of sexual expression. There are several assumptions guiding this inquiry. First, music, as one of several cultural discourses, influences the development of adolescents as they are learning new ways of thinking and behaving. Nevertheless, adolescents are not one-dimensional, blindly assimilating meaning without exercising human autonomy and agency in the signification process. Second, even though adolescent participation increasingly revolves around music and other sound-enhanced products (e.g., music video clips, films), adolescents are not necessarily the authors of their own meaning; the words, utterances, and texts are the products of others and are not necessarily produced from or by the imagination and disposition of adolescents. Because of this, there is no guarantee as to how music texts will be received and interpreted. Third, although the “at-risk” label suggests certain common characteristics that imply homogeneity, at-risk adolescents vary within their group as much as they do between lower- and higher-status groups. Furthermore, the at-risk label cannot be fully understood outside a set of social, political, and economic realities that have more of an impact upon adolescents than any individual or cultural attribute. Finally, “Frith notes that music as a medium of communication is not understood in a direct, linear way by audiences, but irrationally, emotionally, individually. Levi-Strauss says that music is only ever understood by the receiver, and Barthes notes that it is impossible to describe music without adjectives–that is, it must be understood in terms of its subjective effect rather than through a dictionary of meanings. Correspondingly, its effect can be profoundly personal” (qtd. in Turner 131).

Description of Study

Sample: The study was divided into two tiers. The first tier involved participant observation and informal discussions with groups of at-risk African American and Latino adolescents. These observations–on the streets or in the homes of families with at-risk adolescents–coupled with informal discussions were used to gain an understanding of the social activities in which music and sexual behaviors are embedded. During this time, discussions were also held with key as well as casual informants in the adolescent and adult communities about the observations that were being made to clarify conclusions. The information garnered was then used to develop the instrument for the second tier of the research.

The second tier of the research involved in-depth interviews that were conducted in June and July 1992 with 60 African American and Latino coitally active at-risk adolescents (30 per cultural group with even gender distribution). The sample for these interviews was drawn from three inner-city communities in Denver, Colorado, where the participant observations were conducted: Five Points, a predominantly African American community, and the Curtis Park and Northside communities that are largely Latino.

Among the 60 adolescents 12 through 19 years old in the sample, 83% were attending school. Of the 83% attending school, 38% reported having problems that included fighting, drinking, low grades or not doing homework, “ditching,” being caught in hall sweeps, having conflicts with teachers, breaking some type of school rule, being “messed with,” or “experiencing jealousy” that provoked physical confrontation, or setting the trash can, locker, or bathroom on fire. Respondents who were not attending school (17%) had graduated, dropped out due to pregnancy or poor grades, or were suspended for drinking or fighting.

Respondents lived in a variety of household settings. Single-parent households accounted for 42%, and two-parent households 37%, while 21% lived in a combination of settings that included living with friends, grandparents, foster parents, boyfriend and his parents, mother and stepfather, or by themselves. In examining the data across ethnicity, more than half (56%) of the African American respondents lived in single-parent households, whereas 27% of the Latino respondents lived in single-parent households. About 55% said that religion was important in their lives and attended church but with no regular pattern.

Procedure: Adolescents on the whole, and this subgroup in particular, do not trust adults. They operate on the periphery of adult community life and can be intimidating and hard to penetrate. Therefore, older peer interviewers of the same gender, socioeconomic background, and cultural group were selected and trained to conduct the interviews.

Interviews began with 15 closed- and open-ended questions aimed at understanding the adolescent world. Respondents were asked about their past or present situation at school, their living arrangements, employment, and social habits. Each respondent was also asked to provide a time line for a typical day and evening. Additional questions covered media habits and sexual behaviors. Respondents were then asked to choose three songs that they listened to with a sexual message and to select one of the songs to discuss. They were then asked a number of questions about the music or lyrical content in the song, feelings and ideas derived from the lyrics, and when in the song they begin to pay attention to the lyrics.

Following this, two songs were played. The first song was “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” from the female rappers T.L.C.’s album Ooooooohhh … on the T.L.C Tip. “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” is a sexually assertive song that celebrates female sexuality as both positive and desirable. The second song, “Pop that Coochie” from the 2 Live Crew’s album Live, is a male-centered, pleasure-driven song that flaunts sexual prowess, voyeurism, and misogynist debasement of women. These two songs were selected in preliminary interviews with adolescents who were asked to identify songs that had a very overt or covert sexual message.

After playing each song, respondents were asked what was the first thing that they thought about when they heard the song and which words stood out the most. For each word they reported, they were asked the meaning and to discuss the ideas the song gave them and whether they had used any of these ideas. They were also asked what thoughts they had about the depiction of women in music produced by rappers such as Too Short, the 2 Live Crew, and N.W.A. Finally, a fist of sexual topics (e.g., oral sex, sex positions, AIDS, STDs, birth control) was read, and respondents were asked to indicate whether they learned about these topics from family, friends, videos, films, music, or some other source.

Analysis: Coding the closed-ended questions was straightforward. The open-ended answers were content analyzed and coded independently by two graduate research assistants. The intercoder reliability was 94%. After coding, any discrepancies between coders were discussed with the principal investigator until agreement was reached.


Social Setting and Music

As a first step in understanding music in the construction of sexual expression among at-risk coitally active African American and Latino adolescents, the research looked at the adolescent social setting, the world in which they live. The underlying assumption is that asking about music alone is ultimately not sufficient because it weaves a thread of predictability. Therefore, to assess how and where music fits into the wholeness and complexity of their lives, the respondents were first asked to timeline a typical day and evening.

Content analysis of their responses fell into four categories: (1) home, (2) social (day and evening), (3) self-improvement, and (4) parenting activities. Home activities included doing chores, sleeping, talking on the phone, watching TV, staying home, eating, dressing, and listening to music. As for daytime social activities, respondents reported going to the mall or the recreation center, “hanging out” or “kicking it,” visiting family and friends, being with a partner, having sex, or going cruising (only Latinos reported this latter activity).

Evening social activities included attending clubs, parties, drinking, smoking “bud,” going to church or to the movies, and listening to music. Self-improvement included going to dance practice, attending parenting classes, attending summer school, drawing, and attending driving school. Finally, several respondents were involved in parenting activities such as babysitting, caring for a younger sibling, or caring for their own offspring.

Although “listening to music” emerged as a distinct activity, further probing suggested that music interfaced with most other activities such as going to church, caring for a sibling, being with a partner, going to the neighborhood recreation center (which broadcast a top-40 local radio station on their public address system), or staying home and watching television.

Apart from what respondents did on a typical day/evening, respondents also discussed what they had the most fun doing. Two categories emerged: media-driven and gender-driven.

Media-driven activities included going to the movies, talking about soaps, dancing, cruising, and listening to music. Gender-driven activities included various interactions with the opposite gender, cruising, talking on the phone, and having sex. More often, media and gender activities were intertwined. Neither of these activities is mutually exclusive. For example, respondents reported playing music during sex or playing music when cruising.

With few exceptions, music served as either a dominant theme (as in dancing or listening to music) or as a background in both media- and gender-driven activities (having sex, talking about soaps). Similarly, music was embedded and interwoven in most other adolescent social activities.

Music Ownership and Preferences

A list of music and other media hardware (e.g., television) was read to the respondent, who was asked whether he or she owned each item of hardware (as opposed to having access). The majority of respondents reported owning a stereo (93%). There was gender disparity in ownership of portable music assessories. For example, all Latino males owned a Walkman and 80% owned a portable CD/tape player, whereas only 40% of Latinas reported owning a Walkman and a CD/tape player. Likewise, 80% of African American males reported owning a Walkman, whereas 53% of African American females owned one.

As for music preferences, respondents primarily listened to rap, followed by rhythm and blues (R&B). However, Latinas were least likely to report listening to R&B (20%) and were more likely to listen to a wider range of musical genres that included country and western, rock, Latin pop, Spanish, Christian, oldies, pop, and disco. Although African American females were more likely to report listening to R&B, like their Latina cohorts, they listened to a wider selection of music (e.g., country and western, reggae, jazz, gospel, and pop) than African American males. Both Latino and African American males were highly loyal to rap (83%), with 17% listening to rap or R&B with some other genre (heavy metal and pop).

Interpreting Overt and Covert Music Text

Respondents were asked to name their favorite artist(s) and then to indicate how they felt when listening to the music of these artists. Not surprisingly, the prevailing feeling was that the music made them “relaxed and comfortable,” followed by “it gets me into a dancing mood.”

Overall, Latinas, reported the widest range of emotions (sad, brings back memories, hyper, excited, romantic, happy, crazy, proud, funky) when listening to the music of their favorite artist. Music did not appear to have the same emotional impact on Latino males or African American respondents.

Similarly, some emotional feelings were gender-specific. Listening to En Vogue’s “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” made one African American female “feel special.” Likewise, Keith Washington’s music made another African American female feel as if she could tell him “to come on over here, Keith, we can do this.” Whereas, M. C. Luscious’s “Boom I Fucked Your Boyfriend” made another female “feel cheap and embarrassed.”

Rapper Ice Cube’s music made one African American mate “feel like a gangsta,” whereas Public Enemy made another African American male “feel pro-Black militant.” The music of the 2 Live Crew was viewed by several Latino and African American males as simply humorous: “There are no feelings at all, just humorous”:–“2 Live Crew is funny.” The majority of African American females saw no humor in music that they felt was demeaning to African American females.

The music that respondents reported listening to was divided into four content areas: hard-core rap (sexually overt), soft-core rap (sexually covert), rhythm & blues, and pop. Regardless of the format, both the music and the lyrical content were important when listening to a particular song, although far more respondents reported the lyrical content was important (62%). This appears to be influenced by the large numbers of respondents who listened to “hard-core” rap.

Clearly the lyrics provided were read literally and often correlated with the music (Figure 1). If a respondent said “I think about safe sex,” he or she also reported listening to Salt N Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About AIDS.” Similarly, respondents who said the lyrics “make you think about pussy” or to think about “popping it in and out” reported listening to the 2 Live Crew’s “Pop that Coochie” and the X-rated version “Pop that Pussy.” Although this pattern was the dominant reading, it was not always consistent. The words to Keith Sweat’s “Riding a Wrong” made one Latina respondent “think more about her partner,” but also made her consider “cutting down on sex.”

Figure 1

Selected Sexual Songs and Artist Respondents Reported Listening To


Short Dog in the House Alone With You Diamonds & Pearls

(Too Short) (Sisters With Voices) (Prince)

Bitch Betta Have My Giving Him Something (Get Off)

Money (AMG) He Can Feel (Prince)

(En Vogue)

Boom I Fucked Your Boy- In Between the Sheets It Takes Two

friend/Boom I Got (Isley Brothers) (Rob Bass)

Your Boyfriend

(M. C. Luscious)

Drop the Bomb Make Your Sweat Insatiable

(2 Live Crew) (Keith Sweat) (Prince)

Me So Horny Sexual Healing We Don’t Have To

(2 Live Crew) (Marvin Gaye) Take Our Clothes

Off (Jermaine


Freaky Tales (Let’s Get It On I Want to Sex

(Too Short) (Marvin Gaye) You Up (Color Me


Pop that Coochie/Pop

that Pussy

(2 Live Crew)


Short Dog in the House Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg

(Too Short) (T.L.C.)

Bitch Betta Have My Baby Got Back

Money (AMG) (Sir Mix-a-Lot)

Boom I Fucked Your Boy- Do Me

friend/Boom I Got (Bell Biv DeVoe)

Your Boyfriend

(M. C. Luscious)

Drop the Bomb Let’s Talk About Sex

(2 Live Crew) (Salt N Pepa)

Me So Horny OPP

(2 Live Crew) (Naughty by Nature)

Freaky Tales Let’s Talk About AIDS

(Too Short) (Salt N Pepa)

Pop that Coochie/Pop Oochie Coochie

that Pussy (M. C. Brains)

(2 Live Crew)

Shaping Perceptions of Sexual Expression

The meanings of the two songs “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” and “Pop that Coochie” were often tied into the titles of the songs. Still there were disparities among respondents.

T.L.C.’s “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” evoked multiple readings even though the predominant theme was related to sex: “It’s fun to play while having sex.” “To ask for some cookie, from a girl.” “I first thought about sex but I don’t like it [sex].”

For some African American females the song played into the concept of the power of sex by placing females in the role of the aggressor: “It gives girls the impression not to be embarrassed to have sex, it tells them to go have it.” “If you want to get the wild thing on, you can.” On the other hand, if you are in control of your own sexuality, then begging (as in the song “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg”) is unwarranted. Therefore, as one female suggested, “What is she begging for?”

Though the role of aggressor was more evident to African American females, many Latinas found it disturbing: “She sounds like she is trashy for begging … .. I think that she is sick.” This reading suggests the role culture plays in defining gender roles. Sex is the male prerogative in Latino culture. It is the man who initiates sexual contact. It is the male who is the aggressor. An assertive female is going against the culturally prescribed role of being a “good woman” who is not expected to be knowledgeable about sexuality and be sexually aggressive (de la Vega 2).

The lyrics also suggested to some males that they do not have a monopoly on sexual expression and as a result they had to acknowledge female sexual agency: “She was blunt.” “Girls can also be pushy.” “I think you betta ask before you touch.”

With the advent of music videos, it is impossible to discuss recorded music independent of the visual dimension. The intertexuality of recorded music and music video clips was evident in that several respondents were unable to separate the two–so much so that at times responses to the music included references to the video clip of the songs. “It [the song] gave me the idea of safe sex because on the video the girls always had condoms on them.” “I thought about the beat, but also how the performers dressed on the video.”

For African American males “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” had very little meaning other than telling a story about female sexuality. However, among Latino males there were significant differences in first thoughts after listening to the song. Content analysis of their responses revealed two categories: (1) their need for a relationship–“to ask a girl out,” “to get a steady date,” “having a girlfriend,” “having a sexy honey with me,” and (2) individual motives /desires–“I felt as if some girl wanted me back,” “I thought I would beg for sex,” “I wish girls would ask more often,” “I thought I would like it [the music], buy it and then go to my girlfriend’s house.”

The 2 Live Crew’s “Pop that Coochie” evoked much more passion and emotion among all respondents. The majority of females criticized the song as misogynist and found no redeeming value in it: “I hate this song, terrible.” “It’s nasty and I’m angry at girls singing it at school.” “I thought they [the girls] were freaks.” “The only idea I get from it is that people are nasty.” “I think it is degrading. I think that society sees the pretty woman with the nice body as a sex object.” “Guys think of only one thing and that’s sex any way they can get it–in the mouth or butt.” As for one 18-year-old Latina, “Pop that Coochie” gave her the idea that “some black guys just want to get in your pants.”

For several Latinas “Pop that Coochie” was not as offensive because (1) the song did not directly address them–“it don’t bother me because I ain’t skinny so people don’t talk to me like that,” “they [other girls] do what the singer says, it makes me feel sad for them but not for me,” or (2) they either liked the song or had liked it in the past.

Male responses overwhelmingly dealt with thinking and fantasizing about having sex: “The first thing I thought about is to go find a girl and fuck her.” “I thought about going to get my girlfriend.” “I thought about a pool party with chicks only.”

When we asked what word(s) stood out the most in the song “Pop that Coochie” and the meanings of those words, the word “pop” was the most reported across gender and ethnicity. However, what was most revealing about responses, particularly among African American males, was the power variable that was associated with the act of sex from their first thoughts to the actual words selected and the meanings attached to those words. For example, the word “pop” evoked meanings such as hurt, force, tear up, stick it in hard, to “do” somebody, to push in hard. “Coochie” was defined essentially as vagina and in one instance the action “damage it” was assigned to its definition.

There are essentially two readings that these power words seem to generate among African American males. First, many of these respondents are aware of the environmental stumbling blocks, second-class status, and lack of opportunities they face as “minorities” and males in this society. Because of this lack of control, adolescents very early adopt poses that they observe from others like themselves in the culture. These poses or masks of power, whether via language or the gun, over the female, are distinctive coping mechanisms that, according to Majors and Billson, strive “to offset an externally imposed `zero’ image” (5). In the presentation of self, Majors and Billson further suggest that many black males develop a “cool pose that leads to a communication pattern that uses an imposing array of masks, acts and facades” (4).

Second, these power words or codes are part of the sexual foreplay and language of sex and are used to convey the erotic. As a result, it becomes a process of conquest, to demonstrate how “bad” the individual is. This “badness pose” does not necessarily culminate in the sex act, but it becomes part of a cool rap or communication style that exerts toughness, power, detachment, and aloofness. Thus, the pose or the posturing helps to counteract insecurity, anxiety, and struggle and at the same time provides a sense of control, stability, and invulnerability.

Attitudes about Hard-Core Rappers

The music of hard-core rappers such as the 2 Live Crew, N.W.A., and Too Short has a more negative impact on females, especially among African American females. Altogether 80% of African American females and 53% of Latinas were offended by such music. “I don’t like it. They have no respect for women. These singers have a lot of influence on the guys,” said one 16-year-old Latina. Moreover, the general sentiments expressed by African American females were “I hate it. They exploit women.” “Females don’t dis males like males dis females. Males are dogs.” “It’s disgusting. Guys pay too much attention to these songs.” “I hate it. They never talk about boys, only girls.”

In general, 60% of Latino males, 46% of African American males, 20% of African American females, and 13% of Latinas were unconcerned by hard-core rap. As one 12-year-old African American male simply said, “I don’t give a fuck.” Interestingly, Latino and African American males also said they were uninterested because they were not the subject or the victim in the song: “It don’t bother me because they’re not talking about me or other males.”

Several respondents across gender and ethnicity felt that there was some justification for such music, in that it addressed a particular type of female. “A lot of it is true, they just rap about easy girls,” said one 18-year-old Latina. “Some of it is true,” said one 19-year-old African American female. Accordingly, another 16-year-old Latina said: “They [girls] are cheap. They’ll just be with anybody.” For an 18-year-old African American male, the rappers were “cool because some women carry themselves that way.” Equally important, if females exhibited behaviors that were different from what the music depicts, then “it shouldn’t matter, if they [girls] are not that way.”

Learning about Sexuality

Finally, respondents were given a listing of sexual topics (e.g., oral sex, sex positions, birth control, STDs) and asked whether they learned about these topics from family, friends, videos, films, music, or some other source. Of all groups, music emerged among Latinas as one of several sources they used to learn about sexual expression. For example, Latinas reported learning about oral sex and sex positions from films, television, music, and videos. In all forms of sexual expression, friends (defined as “gangs and guys”) and to a lesser extent family played a minor role.


The results of this study indicate the need for increased consideration of the meaning of music and its interface with sexual expression through the eyes of adolescents. Furthermore, there is a need for increased attention to how the quality of at-risk adolescents’ lives and the environmental context in which they live influence their use of music and other cultural products. For example, participant observations in Spanish-only speaking homes discovered adolescents playing music that was heavily laced with sexually suggestive lyrics while parents listened without a clue as to what was blasting on the home stereo. In another situation, a 17-year-old Latina, who lived in a sexually promiscuous home setting, reported that “Pop that Coochie” was helping to empower her by giving her ideas about making money from “prostitution or stripping” as a way out of her immediate situation.

Overall, music seems to function as a “rite of passage” into the adult world, serving as either foreground or background. For some respondents music was a mood enhancer. For others, music provoked thought and debate. For still others, it was fodder for their sexual fantasies. For yet another group, it served as a source of learning about coitus and sexual consummation.

Whatever the individual meaning, the interviews suggest that there were substantial differences in music use and in decoding music text across gender and ethnic groups. For example, among African American females familial sources of sexual information still prevailed. Thus, music was far less influential as a source of learning about sexual expression. On the other hand, music was more influential in educating Latinas than familial sources. The emergence of Latinas using music for sexual education is indicative of a culture in which discussions of sexuality with females are considered taboo because as a group they are not expected to be sexually savvy.

Gender differences also emerged in music hardware ownership. More mates owned hardware than females, particularly portable music accessories. Although both genders equally participated in activities in the public sphere, males were more likely to be in the public sphere with their portable music accessories. Females, on the other hand, were more likely to consume music in private even though they would engage in public activities where music dominated.

Music seems to provide these adolescents, who are both consumers and critics, with a way of thinking about their gender roles and contradictions and their ideas of constructing sexual expression. For example, among some female respondents T.L.C.’s message encouraging females to take charge of their sexuality had the opposite effect. Consequently, they were incensed over the suggestion that to be sexually assertive means to implore males, because these females had already inverted the traditional male-female role within a sexual context by being aggressive. Most surprising was how Latino males took T.L.C.’s song directed to females as desirable and empowering of their own male sexuality.

The adolescents in this study are not blindly assimilating meaning and messages presented in musical recordings. Even though they are labeled “at-risk,” they are far from homogeneous. They have distinct points of view and are not reticent in articulating them. Most are quite savvy as to the multiple textual meanings in various genres, particularly rap, and at times brought their personal experiences and a critical eye to bear on their interpretations. Accordingly, African American females were more personally affected by hard-core rap and felt the brunt of the stereotypes and the misogynist debasement of women more than other groups. Contrastingly, some Latinas did not feel vicitimized from the misogyny in hard-core rap. These respondents managed to distance themselves from the text by insisting that the message was directed to “others.” Obviously, this was easier for Latinas since the rappers they frequently listened to were not of their own ethnicity.

This study is a first step in understanding more completely the role music plays in the construction of sexual expression among African American and Latino at-risk adolescents. Overall, recorded music and sound (e.g., film and music video clips) seem to occupy adolescents’ cultural space in unique ways. As a result, there is a constant welding together of audience with context and these multitextual forms. Because of this convergence, it is increasingly difficult to know where one text begins and the other ends, since they occupy much of the same cultural space in which adolescent sexual expression develops.


The author would like to thank Greg Stene and Sergio de Souza, doctoral candidates, and David Martinez of the University of Colorado for their assistance on this study and especially the young people who willingly gave of their time so that we can all be better informed.

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Polly McLean is an associate professor of Media Studies, School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder, CO.

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