Pop Culture and Its Influence on Sexual Behavior in Black Communities

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 17
Words: 5156
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Study level: College


The focus of this research is based on a study of the popular culture, and how this culture, which has so strongly drawn the African American youths, may have had an impact on the perceptions and attitudes of the said group of Americans, with regard to their expression of sexuality. Such a study could not have come at a better time, given that the rate of contraction of HIV/AIDS among African Americans is at an all-time high, relative to the whites of the same age (Misegades, 2001). Other factors come into play with regard to the high rates of AIDS contraction among African Americans.

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However, this study was mainly restricted to the study of the popular culture, and the effect it has had on the sexuality of the African American youths. Given that sexuality has always been an important aspect of African Americans, it then follows that their cultural values and forms should as well be formed, thus mirroring their sexual lifestyle and values. The development of the black popular culture came about as a result of the nation remaining segregated, both physically and sociologically (Giddings 1984).

Thus, the blacks and whites have each remained with their individual aesthetics and values, with the attempts by the whites to appropriate components of black culture leading to either a deletion or a weakening of its sexual elements (Staples, 2006). The identity of the black youth is both unique and multi-faceted, being vulnerable to such factors as peers, parents, music, religion, school, life experiences, and television (Giddings, 1984). Thus, for black youth to gain identity, this will come as a combination of several complexities.

These youths are at risk of socioeconomic despair, materialism, individualism, and pressure from gangs (Santelli, 2007). Black youth have been shown to be more curious in examining their racial/ethnic identities more than even their white counterparts (Giddings, 1984). This study was an attempt at examining the perceptions held by young people, and especially those of African American origin on the issue of sexuality, and its connection to popular culture. Popular culture has had a major impact as far as the sexuality of the black community is concerned, and generally, the way the young people in this culture express their sexuality (Staples, 2006).

This research especially laid focus on a group of bridge program participants over a period of six weeks. This arrangement suited the study group well, as the participants were able to air their views freely, with no restraining effect from the adult’s ideological point of view. In addition, the arrangement enabled these group members to encourage one another in the giving of comments on issues such as HIV prevention, sexual orientation and activities, and the influence that the popular culture has had on their sexuality. Those participating students who were attending the bridge program were labeled as group A, while those counterparts in the local community college were labeled B.

Other than the focus groups, in-depth interviews were carried out, with a view to providing a richer perspective on the subject in question, by obtaining the views of the individual participants. Each of these interviews did not last for more than 30 minutes. In this regard, open-ended questions were administered to the participants, while at the same time allowing them to provide a comprehensive picture of their held opinions.

Unanticipated findings were also taken into account. Both in-person interviews and over-the-phone interviews were utilized, in a bid to get as many participants as was possible, and those who would otherwise not have participated, thus allowing for flexibility. The objective here was that of drawing on the thematic continuities frequent in focus groups, as well as in individual interviews. The hypothesis has been developed to the effect that popular culture does indeed contribute to the African American youths engaging in such sexual behaviors as would put them at increasingly greater risk of contracting HIV and AIDS.

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According to a Centre for Disease Control Report (CDC, 2005), African Americans are experiencing one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection, in comparison to any other ethnic group in the United States. Analysts have been quick to attribute this high rate of susceptibility to such issues as poverty and unemployment. To this end, the acquiring of risky sexual behaviors is not accorded the primary position that it rightly deserves. Despite the revelation by CDC in 2003 that the black male youths of African American origin were at the center stage of the escalating cases of HIV/AIDS infection among this ethnic group, still, there has been little effort to diminish such daunting statistics.

However, the Black AIDS Institute (2005) has made a clarion call to address this issue, which if left unattended, has the potential to threaten the very survival of the black community. The institute further opines that the technology hype has greatly caught up with the African American youths, with the internet and other forms of media splashing images of scantily dressed models and singers. According to a report by the Department of Human Resources of Georgia (2006), the African Americans youths of the age bracket between 18 and 44 years are the worse hit, in terms of infections with the HIV/AIDS virus, with those of them living in the rural areas having the highest prevalence rates. Through his book, ‘history of blood’, Hayes (2005) depicts a vivid picture of blood and its relation with popular culture.

The author has further illustrated how blood permeates religion and love songs, as well as action films and nightly news. Thus blood is used here to express emotions, as well as negative connotations that are fear instilling. Such a depiction has thus helped to create what has now come to be identified as ‘bad blood’; a misconception that has been believed by some African Americans as the cause of Aids. This then clearly shows a lack of information on the causes of HIV/AIDS, as well as other STDs, and could as well be a pointer to the high rates of infections being witnessed among the African American females of the 15 to 19 years bracket.

It could also be a valid cause of the over 69 percent causes of HIV/AIDS among African Americans, as reported by CDC (2006). A year earlier, another CDC report (2005) indicated that of all the new cases for HIV/AIDS infection in the whole of the united states, the African Americans contributed to nearly half of these (at 49 percent). In addition, the same report made the daunting revelations that out of 18,849 young people under the age of 25 who were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS 61 percent of these were African Americans.

As can be seen, a disproportionate number of African American youths are increasingly contracting the HIV virus. How then, could popular culture be tied up to these daunting revelations? For starters, it is worth noting here that popular culture does indeed have a major impact on the sexual lives of young adults, African Americans no less. Perhaps a compounding assertion to this realization is the fact that popular culture has is normally an established and elementary art, in the socio-culture setting of any one given ethnic group.

As such, its member will almost often tend to identify with those of their lot who are seen popularizing their culture. Popular culture will almost often comprise of the needs, desires, affiliations, and any moment that has a cultural connotation, with a potential impact in the everyday life of a member of a certain ethnic populace (History Research Group, 2000). Anderson and Taylor (2003) are of the opinion that popular culture is also inclusive of such aspects as the practices, beliefs, and objects that define the traditions and everyday practices of a member of cultural orientation.

In essence, such objects would then include books, magazines, films, newspapers, and popular music among others. Besides, some of the practices of popular culture would include among others the aspects of clothing, cooking, consumption of mass media, as well as sports entertainment.

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Prevalence of risk behaviors associated with STDS/HIV in African American adolescents

The exposure to STDS and HIV will be dependent on the patterns and prevalence of those primary risk factors that are normally associated with the transmission of the disease. These include engaging in sex at a young age, having multiple sex partners, as well as lack of consistency in the use of condoms (Misegades 2001). National representative studies, as well as those that are clinically based, have thus far provided evidence that young adolescents do engage in such behaviors that place them at an increased risk of transmitting sexually-related diseases. At the same time, gender, as well as ethnic/racial differences are evident in the levels of behaviors observed (Staples, 2006).

Although the popular culture among the African American youths has especially been popularized by the media, this group has not been in this industry for as long as their white counterparts. In fact, a subjective relationship between popular culture and the black American youths can not be discerned prior to the 1960s (Santelli, 2007). The exclusion of this group from the popular media culture for so long is mainly attributed to financial constraints, as well as racial exclusion policies that were very much a part of the cultural media industry (MacDonald et al, 1990).

According to YRBS, 47 percent of students in high schools have already had sex, and a further 7.4 percent had had their first sexual encounter before they had attained the age of 13. However, it is the young women, and especially those of the black community, who are at an increased risk of contracting HIV infection, as a result of heterosexual contact. During the early to mid-90s, CDC gathered data on the prevalence of HIV infection among those youths who were disadvantaged.

The results revealed that the young women, and whose age was between 16 and 21 years, had a 50 percent higher rate of HIV prevalence, in comparison to their male counterparts of the same age. On the other hand, the same women group was found to be 7 and 8 times more likely to have HIV infection, in comparison to white and Hispanic women respectively. The reasons provided for their increased risk ranged from biological vulnerability, lack of equality in relationships, not recognizing risk factors in their partners, and engaging in sex with older men, who have a higher likelihood of being infected with HIV (CDC, 2005).

Although young men having sex with men (MSM) are at a high risk of HIV infection, the prevention and risk factors that they usually face normally differ from those who are infected following heterosexual contact (CDC, 2005). In a study by CDC that included 5,589 MSM, about 55 percent of the young men of the age bracket 15 to 22, were not ready to reveal their sexual attraction to other males. At the same time, those MSM failing to disclose their sexual orientation are also less likely to undergo HIV tests. This means that if they are infected, then they would not be in a position to know this (MacDonald et al, 1990).

In addition, the same group of males is more likely to have more than one female sexual partner, making it possible for those among them who are infected to transmit the virus to their male and female sexual partners as well. A study on both African American MSM College and non-college students that were carried out in North Carolina revealed the risk factors for HIV infection that was prevailing among the participants. Out of this group, 20 percent of them confessed to having had a female sex partner for the 12 months that passed.

In terms of multiple sexual partners, 27 percent of the African American students reported as having four or more sexual partners, while the Latino and Caucasian students were at 15 percent and 12 percent. In addition, those African American students who hailed from the rural communities were found to have initiated sexual intercourse, and at the same time did not use a condom as well, when they last had intercourse. This was in comparison to their counterparts who did not hail from the rural areas. Further, the clinical-based approach studies did indeed confirm the patterns that were reported by the school-based national surveys.

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According to these clinic-based surveys, most teenagers normally initiate sexual intercourse at quite a young age. At the same time, most of them are not inconsistent use such barriers as condoms that would safeguard them against STDs, while they are engaging in sexual intercourse (Grunbaum, 2002). Epidemiological research has offered us a rich knowledge base with regard to the issue of HIV and AIDS. In line with this, it becomes imperative then that our intervention attempts should be focused on the prevention of HIV, while at the same time addressing how to prevent the escalating prevalence of STDs (Grunbaum, 2002).

Moreover, there is a high rise in the rates of STDs among the African American youths, as well as disproportionate rates of HIV, and this calls for interventions that are specifically tailored to this target group.

STD presence is a precursor to the ability of an individual to transmit sexually transmitted diseases, and this includes HIV. As of now, some of the highest STD rates in the United States have so far been recorded among young people, and especially those of African American origin (Staples, 2006).

The rate of use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco is also very high among this group. Whether casual or chronic users of these substances, either group is more likely to engage in such high-risk behaviors as unprotected sex. At the same time, those youths who are homeless, or rather run away from home, are also more likely to engage in sex, in exchange for money (Kaiser Family Foundation & YM Magazine, 1998).

Lack of Awareness

According to research, there is a large proportion of young people who have no concern at all, about whether or not they become infected with HIV. There is hence a need to provide accurate and age-appropriate information regarding HIV and to these youths. In addition, the youths should be enlightened on how to talk to their parents, as well as other adults whom they can trust to advise them on matters of sexuality (Maticka, 1997).

This should be geared towards the elimination of the risk factors, ways of talking to potential sexual partners about the potential risk factors, getting tested for HIV, and the correct use of condoms. More importantly, it should be stressed to these youngsters that abstinence indeed is the only way that can guarantee a 100 percent avoidance of infection (Staples, 2006).

Poverty and Out-of-School Youth

According to available statistics, 1 out of every 4 African Americans lives in poverty, while 1 in every 5 Hispanics faces the same scenario (Santelli, 2007). Thus, poverty and the socio-economic problems that are tied to it, including lack of access to quality health care, has both a direct and indirect impact in increasing the risk factors for HIV infection. In addition, the young person who drops from school tends to be more sexually active at a younger age and is also more likely not to use contraceptives (Kaiser Family Foundation & YM Magazine, 1998).

Tailoring intervention messages and programs

For a long time now, prevention experts have been aware of the importance of having tailor-made messages that will be targeted at certain groups of the audience. This is with regard to age, gender, level of education, sexual orientation, developmental statuses, and race/ethnicity (Staples, 2006). However; it has been rare to see prevention programs that have been tailored to suit the specific sexual experiences of an audience (Maticka, 1997). Indeed, adolescents tend to vary widely along this dimension. The effectiveness of a prevention message directed at an adolescent audience may tend to more or less, depending on the types of sexual experiences that these youths have.

At the same time, there lacks enough data about the adolescents’ sexuality natural history, with a poor understanding of the range and context of the adolescent’s sexual experiences (MacDonald et al, 1990). For this reason, adolescents have either been classified as being sexually active or not being sexually active. As such, the intervention programs are also tailored based on this simple dichotomy. It would thus be prudent to incorporate a classification system that is able to offer meaningful distinctions between the frequencies, forms, context, and patterns of the sexual behaviors of adolescents.

This would allow for the evaluation and development of interventions that are more sensitive and effective, and which are also aimed at the reduction of sexual escapades among the black American youths early in life, thus reducing the consequences of irresponsible sexual behavior (Grunbaum, 2002). According to a Staples (2006) study, a classification that focuses and recognizes the diversity of adolescent sexual experiences, is also important in the provision of evaluations and interventions that will eventually lead to a prevention of sexual behaviors that are risky.

This study also grouped those youths who were sexually inexperienced into two groups. The first group was that of delayers, who have no intention of having sex in the next year, and anticipators, who have thus far not had sex but are anticipating having sex in the next year. The available data did reveal a sizeable proportion of youths who are anticipating their first-ever sexual intercourse in the coming year. This group would more than likely ignore messages that are geared towards abstinence, as they already are anticipating their initiations, and which they view as being inevitable. Those adolescents who are in a steady relationship, are less amenable to messages on safer sax, owing to the fact that they view their monogamous relationship like that with an uninfected partner (Maticka, 1997).


This research was aimed at examining the perceptions and attitudes held by the young African American adults as far as the issues of sexuality are concerned, and also how popular culture has had an impact on their views regarding their sexuality. For this research, this study sought to explore the effect of popular culture on the sexuality of African Americans. To this end, the glorification of popular culture gas, to some extent misled the majority of the African American youths, thus predisposing them to take on such risky behaviors as the practicing of early and unsafe sex, an act that predisposes them to contract HIV/AIDS virus, as well as STDs.

More than any other race in America, the young African American youths are the most vulnerable to some of the media advertisements for such products as cigarettes and alcohol products, which seeks to glorify an association of their products with the images of a good and successful life; thus drawing admiration to the African Americans, who are more than keen to bid poverty goodbye. Through the use of such media campaigns, sexual behaviors have been portrayed as being a package of a successful life (Balbach 2003).

In addition, hip-hop culture has thus far portrayed sex as a commodity that has essentially thrown caution out of the window, with regard to a respect for self, or even a fathoming of the ensuing consequences (Taylor 2007). In fact, the wave of the popular culture among African Americans has been so massive that efforts to have this group practices abstinence have almost always been thwarted. Nevertheless, the current Bush administration has set aside funds meant to initiate abstinence programs in schools.

However, it has been the opinion of a majority of the parents that such programs be more focused on teaching the youths much more than simple abstinence (NPR 2007). It is worth noting here too that African American women have a 36 fold chance of contracting HIV, relative to their white counterparts (CDC 2005). At the same time, CDC, through a survey of 126,964 females with new cases of HIV/AIDS in over 33 states, came up with a damning report that 64 percent of these were of African American origin. Based on these statistics, it can now be revealed that the highest prevalence rate of HIV infection is to be found among the women of African American origin, perhaps as a result of heterosexual contacts (Advocates for Youth 2003).

For this reason, there is every need to raise the intervention efforts towards this population segment a notch higher. It would be foolhardy for anyone to hypothesize that popular culture has not had a major impact with regard to the perceptions and attitudes of young African Americans, on sex and their sexuality. The evidence is there for all to see; in this age whereby sex has been commercialized in the forms of the internet, videogames, music, and television. In light of this, a survey of 1,762 adolescents was conducted by Collins, Elliot, Kanouse, and Hunter (2004).

The findings revealed that a majority of the teenagers, who had exposure to a high level of sexual content through the media, were also more likely to engage in sexual activities at an early age when compared to their counterparts who rarely watched sex on the media. According to Stranton (1993), young adults of African American origin do not view sexual intercourse as a behavior problem, thus helping to illustrate the extent to which a lack of censorship of sex on the media, has led to a change in perception regarding sexuality among the youth.

As if confirming these assertions, A 2005 CDC report indicated that the rates of STDs were highest among the African American youths of the age bracket 15 to 19 years; more than in any other age category across the different ethnic groups. In fact, the African American women of the same age bracket were reported as having an STD rate of 2,814 cases for every 100,000 females, indicating a 14 percent increase over a period of one year, relative to the white females of a similar age. At the same time, their male counterparts had 1,417.5 STD cases for every 100,000 males (CDC 2005).

CDC (2004) report also confirmed that the rates of HIV infection among African American youths aged between 20 and 24 years were at 53 percent. These statistics no doubt call for an embracing of such methods and intervention programs, as will lead to a reduction in the occurrence of HIV infections among the youth of the African American community.

Research questions

How many participants have engaged in sexual intercourse: This question was aimed at shedding light on the statistical figures of the African American youths who are engaging in sex at an early age, and this would then help to support or disqualify the hypothesis being put forward that the African American youths engage in early sex at a higher rate than any other race.

The participants’ beliefs about pre-marital sex and why they hold these beliefs: The aim of this question was to explore the perceptions held by the African American youths as regards the issue of sexuality, and whether or not they find it ideal to engage in pre-marital sex.

Age of the participants when they first had sexual intercourse: This question was aimed at exploring the average age of both male and female youths of African American origin, of engaging in sexual intercourse.

Whether or not the participants were using contraceptives when engaging in sex and the frequency of using the contraceptives: This was meant to find out if the African American youths of the identified target group were practicing safer sex, and if they did so, whether they are capable of replicating the practice every other time they engage in sexual intercourse. Statistics have shown that a majority of the youths, and especially those of African American origin, are more likely to be inconsistent in the use of contraceptives. Through this question, this research sought to unearth the authenticity of such findings.

Episodes and frequencies of watching pornographic sites: persistent and prolonged watching of sex videos, tapes and films have been implicated with a tendency to engage in early sex. The study thus sought to find out the number of times each participant spent on such sites.

Whether or not the watching of sex tapes or footages, had any influence on the youth’s perceptions regarding sex: as noted above, watching pornographic sites has an association with the tendency to be more sexually active at an early age. This question thus attempted to enquire the views of the youths interviewed, on whether or not the amount of time they spent watching sites tapes and videos, could have had an impact on their sexuality.

Whether or not the participants were aware of HIV/AIDS: due to the glorification of sex by popular music and the media, a majority of the African American youths have lost touch with the reality of HIV/AIDS. The aim of this question, therefore, was to find out if the participants knew of people who had practiced unsafe sex and contracted HIV, or if at all they had ever watched a video of someone suffering from AIDS.

If the participants had ever contacted any STDs: This question attempted to explore whether or not the youths were using contraceptives while practicing sexual intercourse.

What type of music, books, and television programs do the participants listen to, read and watch respectively: popular culture is dictated by the kind of literature and programs one ascribes to, and so the survey, by posing this question, attempted to identify the trends of the African American youths, and whether or not the popular culture which they identified with had any impact regarding the choice of their sex life.

How much of their decision-making process do they believe is influenced by popular culture: this question was aimed at identifying if the impact of the popular culture was so great as to shift the attitudes and perceptions of the African Americans regarding the issue of sexuality.

Specific research design

This study was conducted at the Savannah State University, and the main point of focus was the youths attending a bridge program. These are the youth who will be joining the college in a few months. At the same time, another group attending a local community college was also interviewed. Students participating in the Bridge Program were labeled group A and students attending local community college group B.

The reason for having two different groups was to have two age brackets for the survey. One comprised of young people who had only recently joined campus i.e. the bridge program group and those already in college i.e. students from the community college. Interviews and focus groups were used as the main means of getting information. One of the objectives was to draw on similar themes that are frequently mentioned in the focus group and individual interviews. These details helped shed light on social and cultural dimensions in popular culture that lead youths to make decisions about risky sexual behavior.

A carefully moderated discussion among ten African American young adults in the Bridge Program participants was conducted during a six-week period. The meetings focused on the decisions they made while finding their way to adulthood. Bridge students attend a weekly supplemental course, and it was during this time that the researcher asked questions regarding the topic area as it related to their everyday lives. This was an ideal forum to engage students regarding their perspective on popular culture and how it may influence their sexual behavior.


Each interview lasted approximately 30 to 40 minutes in duration. Utilizing primarily open-ended questions, the interviews allowed participants to provide a comprehensive picture of their opinions, including entirely unanticipated findings. The interviews were also conducted over the telephone and on a face-to-face basis. More than one data collection effort was utilized to validate findings and limit personal biases. Interview sessions were tape-recorded and transcribed. Questionnaires were also used.

Sources of Methodology

The research methodology was a modified form, borrowed from the Princeton research survey associates International (PRSA). Qualitative research was to be conducted. This is the kind of research that aims to get an in-depth view of human behavior and the factors that influence it (Trochim 2006). The methodology used depends on the kind of research; in this case to find out

how pop culture has influenced behavior in young adults in matters relating to sex.

The quality of data needed was also determined by the methodology applied. In this case, honest opinions from young people were appreciated. For this reason, a full identity of participants was not necessary, in a bid to have them answer the question freely and in an honest manner.

Role of researcher

The role of a researcher in this survey was to design the questionnaire, pre-test it, and then administer it to the target population. In addition, the researcher was also required to compile the data obtained, analyze it, clean it and then present it for purposes of deriving results. The researcher was also required to tabulate the finding, and finally, compile a report on the same.

Unit of analysis

The focus here was on an individual youth first, in order to gauge their views and opinions as regards the issue of their sexuality in a black community, and the impact of popular culture on this. At the same time, the emphasis on a focus group setting was meant to shed light on the social interaction of the youths.

Sample population

The sample population was the youths of the age bracket 13-18 years. In total, 7 youths were interviewed.


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