Study looks at sex, drugs and (dangerously loud) rock 'n' roll

May 22, 2012, 10:28 a.m.

After finding a link between personal music player use and smoking weed, researchers suggested that manufacturers of MP3 players and earbuds be encouraged to make products that allow people to enjoy music at lower volume levels – without smoking marijuana. (Credit: Dan McKay/Flickr Creative Commons)

Cranking up those earbuds could be bad for your health.

And not just your ears, according to a new study in Pediatrics, which found that "risky music-listening behaviors" – i.e., blasting the volume on your personal music player – are associated with "traditional health-risk behaviors" – i.e., smoking weed and having unprotected sex.

Researchers looked at 944 Dutch adolescents and young adults (ages 15-25) attending inner-city schools and asked them about their music-listening habits and other risky behaviors in which they partook.

Participants were asked whether they smoked cigarettes daily; binge drank during at least one occasion during the previous four weeks; smoked weed over the past four weeks; used hard drugs over the past four weeks; and whether their use of a condom during sex was consistent.

Risky music-listening, in this case, was defined as listening to music at 89 dBA for at least an hour per day, a benchmark that was based on a report by the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks. That kind of exposure to sound can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

Researchers found that 30.4 percent of participants exceeded the 89 dBA safety threshold when listening to their personal music players, and 48.1 percent exceeded it when they attended live music events.

The risks went beyond potential hearing loss, though; researchers also found that risky music-listeners who used MP3 players were 1.99 times more likely to say they'd smoked weed in the past four weeks than those who listen to music "safely." They're also 1.19 times more likely to smoke cigarettes every day, and 1.1 times more likely to have sex without a condom every time.

As far as risky music-listeners who attended noisy live music events, they were 5.94 times more likely to have binge drank during the previous four weeks, 2.03 times more likely to have sex without a condom every time and 1.12 times more likely to smoke cigarettes every day.

The study noted that "risky MP3-player listeners were often also cannabis users," and said that "could be related to the existential period in life that constitutes adolescence and emerging adulthood, not only because of the positive feeling to be alive and the experience of existential meaning, but also as something that can fill existential emptiness."

In other words, it soothes that teenage angst. (The study also speculated that marijuana "enhances activities" – it makes the music sound better.)

Regarding the risky live-music listeners, the study pointed out that alcohol clouds judgment, which makes people "'loosen up' and feel more socially confident and comfortable initiating or engaging in sex" without a condom. Additionally, because places where the music is at a high volume allows people to congregate without necessarily speaking to each other, people are moving within each other's personal space, says the study, making it quite possible "that people meet and explore each other at music venues before they have unsafe sex."

The study's authors suggested that manufacturers of MP3 players ought to be encouraged to make players and earbuds that allow people to "experience intrinsic awards and sensations while listening at lower music levels" – without smoking weed.

They also recommend that loud music venues provide ear protection and another kind of protection – condoms, and perhaps put up posters or print messages on admission tickets warning concert-goers about the dangers of unsafe sex and alcohol abuse.

Photo by Dan McKay via Flickr Creative Commons.

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