Generation Z is still undefined but could loosely be labeled those born from 1996 to today. In 2009, we highlighted University of Pittsburgh’s research discovering the connection between musical lyrics and sexual activity.
Lyrics Influence Teens
Exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex was one of the strongest associations with sexual activity.
Compared to those with the least exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex, those with the most exposure were more than twice as likely to have had sexual intercourse. Similarly, among those who had not had sexual intercourse, those in the highest third of exposure to lyrics describing degrading sex were nearly twice as likely to have progressed along a noncoital sexual continuum compared to those in the lowest third.
Movies Influence Teens
Now 3 years later, there is new research linking movie consumption to sexual behavior. Psychological Science will soon be publishing a 6-year study by Ross O’Hara while at Dartmouth College that states:
Much research has shown that adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behaviors are influenced by media, but the role of movies has been somewhat neglected, despite other findings that movies are more influential than TV or music.
Adolescents who are exposed to more sexual content in movies start having sex at younger ages, have more sexual partners, and are less likely to use condoms with casual sexual partners,
These movies appear to fundamentally influence their personality through changes in sensation-seeking, which has far-reaching implications for all of their risk-taking behaviors.
The research discovered that exposure to sexual content in movies at a young age caused teens to (1) seek more novel and intense sensations of all kinds but especially sexual and (2) treat movies as sexual scripts on how to behave in emotional situations.
So who is influencing Generation Z?
Now that we know musical lyrics and movies strongly influence sexual behavior, let’s evaluate a few of the nominees for MTV’s 2012 Teen Choice Awards (which is for ages 13-19).
- American Reunion (movie)
Male and female nudity, including bare breasts, male backsides, and an extended look at one man’s penis. Several sex scenes include vigorous thrusting and suggestions of oral sex, given by both genders. Both men and women are interrupted masturbating, and there’s a not-so-brief look at online porn (with sound effects). Plus nearly constant talk about sex — who’s having it, who isn’t, who wants to, and how — usually in the crudest possible terms.
- Crazy, Stupid, Love. (movie)
Couples are shown flirting, kissing, straddling each other (no nudity), making out heavily in bed, and discussing how they’ll have sex. Some couplings are played for laughs. A teenager takes risqué pictures of herself to print and give to someone else.
- That’s My Boy (movie)
That’s My Boy has tons of references to sex and several scenes of nudity. Incest, masturbation, erections, penis size (even that of a young boy), semen, oral sex, happy endings — all are heavily explored in the dialogue. Frequent sex scenes feature everything from an adult teacher and her 13-year-old student to a long sequence about a man masturbating to a photo of an elderly woman to a shot of a brother and sister having sex. Donny’s home away from home is a nudie bar where the strippers are topless or wearing just pasties and a thong. Sandler often goes for laughs at the expense of very large people, so there are several shots of naked obese people either as strippers or in other situations. Women are frequently treated as objects.
- This Means War (movie)
One love scene (the woman is shown in her bra and panties; the man is shirtless), plus lots of make-out scenes and references to sex — like when Lauren decides to have a “sex tiebreaker,” or her best friend, Trish, discusses who looks like he’d have “dirty sex.” Trish also encourages Lauren to talk about the fact that she was a gymnast, because guys like women who are “flexible” and can do certain things in bed. A man describes sex as “entered the premises”; two best friends swear not to have sex with Lauren but then do it anyway.
- Jennifer Lopez – Dance Again (music)
sample lyrics: “The way you move boy is reason enough that I make love to you baby”
- LMFAO – Party Rock Anthem (music)
sample music: “Yo, I’m running through these hoes like Draino.”
- Maroon 5 – Moves Like Jagger (music)
sample lyrics: “Take me by the tongue and I’ll know you, Kiss me ’til you’re drunk and I’ll show you, All the moves like Jagger.”
- Pitbull – Give Me Everything (music)
sample lyrics: ” But I might drink a little bit more than I should tonight, And I might take you home with me if I could tonight, And baby I’ma make you feel so good tonight.”
- 2 Broke Girls (tv)
Strong innuendo, including jokes about brothels, S&M, anal sex. Discussions about sexual activity, as well as some crude references to woman’s breasts and genitals. An accidental same-sex kiss.
- Don’t Trust the B**** in Apt 23 (tv)
Tons of sexual innuendo, language, and humor. Occasional implied sex performed comically with no nudity. Jokes about masturbation (including a neighbor who seems to be masturbating while talking to the main characters) and pedophilia, plus implied rampant casual sex, references to lesbian sex “in a pinch,” and a main character who’s cheerfully referred to as a “whore.” In one scene, the main character appears fully nude, with sensitive parts blurred.
- Gossip Girl (tv)
Plenty of sexual scenes between teens, including drunken makeout sessions, cheating, losing virginity, threesomes, and some underwear shots.
- Keeping Up with the Kardashians (tv)
One family member is somewhat infamous for starring in a “sex tape” that went public. Others are shown wearing clothes that barely cover their assets, posing for Playboy (which is encouraged as a career booster), and dancing on a stripper pole that was installed in the family home (the younger sibs like to “play” on it, too; it’s clear they know what they’re doing). Bare body parts occasionally pop up but are always blurred out. The younger sisters are around for their older siblings’ escapades and are influenced by them. For example, in one episode, one of the younger girls imitated Girls Gone Wild (not showing anything, but acting it out) while her older brother’s 20-ish friend filmed her with a video camera.
- Pretty Little Liars (tv)
Couples cuddle and make out, and it’s implied that a few have sex, though nothing is shown. Nudity is limited to the occasional guy walking around shirtless. A student carries on a romantic relationship with her teacher, despite her parents’ rules against it, and there’s some girl-on-girl kissing between a lesbian character and an assortment of partners. Teen girls often wear skimpy clothing or revealing bikinis and talk about being “sexy.”
- True Blood (tv)
Right from the opening sequence, there’s plenty of nudity (breasts, buttocks) and a wide variety of simulated sex acts, including orgies. There are also images of women stripping and dancing suggestively, and prostitution is frequently discussed. Strong language is used to describe female genitalia. Vampire biting is considered an erotic act and is referred to as “fang banging.” Vampire blood is sold on the black market as an alternative to Viagra.
While not every kid or teen consumes this, quite a few do. And many of those who don’t will still be influenced by it to some degree through their friends at school, home, or even the youth group.
What churches can do?
Trying to rid the world of obscene content is futile. There will always be depraved media. What you can do is address these underlying spiritual issues at an early age – in children’s ministry.
This doesn’t mean you speak without a filter. However, you can speak often to kids in a mature, serious, and grown-up way that respects their intelligence (kids love this anyway) and communicates spiritual truths in a subtle enough way that kids dealing with mature are helped while the innocence of sheltered children is preserved.