Sex Ed

What’s The Recipe For A Hit Song? Lyrics About Reproduction

September 9, 2013 by Justin Lehmiller

anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hon.” – From ‘Baby Got Back’ by Sir Mix-A-Lot

got me spendin’. Spendin’ all your money on me, up on me, on me.” – From ‘My
Humps’ by the Black Eyed Peas


Evolutionary psychologists believe
that men and women have evolved fundamentally different mating strategies in order
to maximize the chances of passing along their genes to future generations. It
is theorized that men developed a tendency to pursue short-term sexual
encounters with young and curvy women, whereas women developed a tendency to
hold out for long-term relationships with reliable men who have the resources
necessary to take care of them and any offspring they might produce [1].
There is a substantial amount of research supporting the idea that men and
women are looking for different things in their mates and these
preferences generally fall along the lines predicted by this theory; however, a recent set
of studies suggests that these tendencies are so deeply ingrained that we may have
even developed a preference for popular media that reinforces these sexual

In one of these studies, every song
that made it into Billboard’s Top Ten lists for Pop, R&B, and Country in 2009
was analyzed for content [2]. A total of 174 songs were included, and the
lyrics of each song were coded by two independent raters to determine the
extent to which they revealed “reproductive messages” (e.g., references to
genitalia, hook-ups, long-term relationships, money, etc.). Results indicated
that fully 92% of the songs contained at least one such message. Although the
vast majority of the songs in each genre contained reproductive themes, R&B
songs had the most by far. However, the nature of the references differed
significantly across musical categories. For instance, references to status,
resources, and sex appeal were most common in R&B and pop music. In
contrast, references to commitment and faithfulness were most common in country

Follow-up studies revealed that the
most popular songs (i.e., those that went to #1) included the highest number of
references to reproduction. Perhaps even more intriguing is that the researchers uncovered
evidence that this is not a new trend. Reproduction references were common
across all musical genres dating back several decades, and they were even
evident in the most popular operas traced back hundreds of years.

These results indicate that sex definitely sells in the world of music. But is it because we are truly driven to prefer songs
that feature reproductive messages and reinforce our theorized mating
strategies and preferences? Not necessarily. Perhaps people are drawn to these
songs for reasons other than the lyrics (e.g., maybe it has something to do
with the appearance and voice of the singers, or maybe the tempo of these songs is different).
Plus, if we are driven to prefer media that contains evolutionary themes, why don’t we also see people jamming to songs about finding food and water or fulfilling other basic
needs? In short, we can’t say for sure why sexy songs are so popular—but whatever
the reason, if you’re trying to write or record the next big hit, it might not
hurt to throw in a reproductive message or ten.

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[1] Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual Strategies Theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204-232.

[2] Hobbs, D. R., & Gallup, G. G. (2011). Songs as a medium for embedded reproductive messages. Evolutionary Psychology, 9, 390-416.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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