Nasty Raps and Soyed-Up Rats

Boulder Weekly | August 9, 2006
Today's column is a recap of the week in sex: my own take on the degrading rap lyric study, and a fascinating look at soy-sexed lab rats.

By now, many of you have heard about the study published in "Pediatrics" on degrading rap lyrics and early sexual behavior. Mind you, there's no person on the planet who dislikes degrading music lyrics more than myself, but did anyone bother to read the actual study?

First of all, it was a phoner. Yep, sex questions asked to 1461 randomly selected adolescents by telephone. "Let's see, you are 12-years old. Ever listen to Ja Rule? Ever have sex with a girl?"

Sorry, but the study does not prove that degrading song lyrics cause teens to get it on sooner. It only shows that kids who have sex earlier listen to rap songs with degrading lyrics more often than kids who have sex later. It also found that teens who spend more time listening to music in general are more likely to have sex earlier. Duh!

I could go on. Fortunately, the authors of the study were very conscientious in reporting its limitations and in pointing out the need for more research. But I'm not so sure if their results support their conclusion, and much of the media who reported on this study clearly didn't bother to read the whole thing.

One of the important questions the authors raise are about the impact of music videos that accompany the songs. They didn't research this, and reporters didn't bother to mention that the videos might have a greater impact than the songs.

Also, the study did not mention the possibility that girls might process sexual lyrics with different parts of the brain and with a different level of consciousness than boys. After all, we now look at sexual orientation and sexual arousal for women as being a different beast than it is for men, with different things happening in the brains of each respective sex.

If you ask girls who listen to music with degrading lyrics, most will tell you that this isn't how it should be in a relationship. So I'm wondering about girls who put out for the gansta guys. Are there ways they are processing the degrading messages about sex that we don't yet know about, or don't want to know about? Clearly, there is some kind of turn on involved.

As for the issue of "Pediatrics" that this study was published in, I found another article in it to be far more interesting: "The Relationship Between Watching Professional Wrestling on Television and Engaging in Date Fighting Among High School Students."

You won't believe this, but the effect of pro wrestling was greater on girls than boys. Girls who watched professional wrestling were more likely to physically thump their boyfriends than their boyfriends were to whomp on them. Drinking multiplied the effect.

As for the need to take studies with a grain of soy--ah, salt--consider recent concerns about soyed-up lab rats.

Ever hear the phrase "You are what you eat?" This simple idiom is sending shock waves throughout the scientific community. It seems that even the world's most brilliant researchers have never considered the impact of common rat chow on the outcome of their studies.

Common rat food is often high in soy. Soy contains phytoestrogens which can alter an animal's estrogen balance. Boy rats, girls rats--it doesn't matter. The soy in rat chow can cause a shift in the animal's hormone levels that is serious enough to invalidate thousands of scientific studies. We're talking studies on cancer and heart disease, and virtually any rat or mouse research that looks at the differences between males and females.

Phytoestrogens in animal (or human) diets can be so powerful that sheep who are grazing on phytoestrogen-rich clover can become infertile. Worse yet, the amount of soy in one batch of commercial rat food is likely to be different from that in the next. This might explain why different labs sometimes get different results when doing the exact same experiment.

As for researchers being aware of this, when molecular biologist Leslie Lenwand asked fellow scientists what they were feeding their lab rats, most replied that they had no idea.

Whether it's rap music, pro wrestling, or rodents, studies provide an important way to explore the world. But we need to respect their limitations and learn how to read them.

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