Sex and music video

Authored by: Diane Railton

The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138777217
eBook ISBN: 9781315168302
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



The terms ‘sex’ and ‘music video’ have become almost synonymous, in that it is difficult to talk about music videos without the subject of sex featuring in the conversation. This has long been the case both within academia and without. Whether we are considering the varied reactions to Madonna’s controversial videos of the 1980s and 90s or Sheri Kathleen Cole’s claim that ‘the commodification of sexuality is central to the creation of most music videos’ (1999), Imani Perry’s analysis of the sexual exploitation of women in 1990s hip-hop videos (2003) or Meredith Levande’s (2008) discussion relating the increased sexualisation of women in music video to changes in ownership of the companies distributing them, the subject of sex has been central to debates about what music video can and should do. Recent popular discussions about music video, both online and in the press, have tended to focus on the sexual nature of videos made by women artists and the potential impact of this on young girls. So, for example, while The Guardian reports that ‘the former Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm has banned her daughter from watching Rihanna videos to protect her from the overtly sexual content’ (14 October 2014), posts on the Netmums forum express concern about the public display of music videos by singers such as Rihanna and Nicki Minaj and argue for stricter control of music television (Netmums, no date). Indeed, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) reports that ‘Music videos were identified [by parents] as a key source of sexual imagery believed to be potentially harmful to young girls’ emotional wellbeing and social development’ (Cooke, 2014: 116). Similarly, the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls argues that through exposure to sexualised media content (and they see music video as a key element of this), ‘girls may be learning to prioritize certain rewards (male attention) over other rewards (academic accomplishment), thus limiting their future educational and occupational opportunities’ (APA, 2010: 32). Academics from the University of South Australia have suggested that sexualised music videos shown on free-to-air TV at times when children are watching could have an impact on their socio-sexual development and cite instances of girls as young as five imitating music video performers in terms of both dress and behaviour (Ey and Cupit, 2013).

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.