OWL 7-9 Session 3: Sexual Messages in Popular Music

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UNIT THREE: Sexual Language


Unnoticed by many listeners, references to sexuality abound in popular music. Many youth enjoy music, and connecting the OWL program with "their" music tends to be very well received.

In past generations, there were popular songs about religion, patriotic songs, and songs about the natural world. Of course, there have always been love songs. Today, it's not uncommon for all 10 songs on the Top 10 list to be overtly about sex. At any rate, you won't have to dig very deeply to find sexual references.


  • Raise youth awareness of the sexual messages they are listening to.


  • Take an analytic perspective to modern popular songs.
  • Recognize the pervasiveness of sexual references and imagery.


This is a 30 minute activity, meant to replace the "SEXUALITY IS EVERYWHERE COLLAGE" part of Session Three. Modern kids have little interest in making a collage by cutting up magazines, but they are keenly interested in popular rock songs and relish the opportunity to listen during an OWL session.

  • Re-entry
  • Question Box
  • Breaking the Language Barrier (as published)
  • Reflection and Planning


  • Poster-size copy of the SEXUAL BEING (Circles of Sexuality) diagram (p. 31).
  • Copies of the SEXUAL BEING (Circles of Sexuality) diagram to hand out to participants.
  • Printed copies of the lyrics for last week's Top 10 songs.
  • 5 copies of the name of each song, on sticky labels or on paper with tape.
  • Computer or MP3 player with last week's Top 10 songs (preferably videos).
  • Stereo speakers with sub-woofer (and preferably projector).


  • Read this session and decide together how to divide leadership responsibilities.
  • Assemble the lyrics and the songs or videos from the current Top 10.


1. Sexual Messages in Popular Music

Explain to participants that we will be listening to current Top 10 songs (and watching the videos, if available). Distribute copies of the Circles of Sexuality handout, and take some time to describe each of the five circles.

After distributing lyrics for the Top 10 songs, ask for a request of which song to analyze first. Give participants time to find the right page, and then play the song or video. When it concludes, ask youth to find references to sexuality and relationships in particular lyrics, and categorize each reference in one of the five circles. Stick the title of the song in the appropriate circle on the poster-size chart, and ask for additional references.

Repeat the process with several more songs, as time allows. You should find that the chart is covered with song titles, as many songs will touch on multiple aspects of sexuality.

Wrap up with a brief discussion of why there are so many sexual references in the music. Is it because that is what the musicians are interested in? Or that is what interests the listeners? Is sexualization being used to sell the music? Do you think most listeners consciously recognize these messages? What, if anything, did you learn from this activity?

Mark Hollinger, MyTH@null.net
First Church Unitarian, Littleton MA
January 2013

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