Scientists examine the truth behind ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’

Ian Dury released his single “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” in 1977 — and the phrase has been stuck in pop culture ever since. A new study published in the Human Ethology Bulletin scientifically investigated whether sex, drugs and rock music are actually interrelated.

“I am a behavioral scientist trained in bioevolutionary mechanisms, and I have performed and greatly appreciated music for very a long time. Being a child of the 1980s, ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll (SDRR)’ was seemingly a phenomenon taken as truth,” said study author Marissa A. Harrison of Penn State Harrisburg.

“I wanted to, with evidence, determine if the relationship indeed does exist. I brought my colleague and fellow scientist Dr. Hughes into the project for her knowledge of endocrine processes and her statistical savvy.”

The sexual proclivities and drug use of many famous rock musicians is well-known, but what about the average person?

The researchers examined the relationship between sex, drugs, and rock and roll with a survey of 181 men and 286 women. They found that there was a positive relationship between sex and drugs and rock and roll — but only under certain circumstances.

“The takeaway message is that SDRR does seem to be an interrelated phenomenon, but it depends on how you look at the variables,” Harrison told PsyPost. “The results overall were not that strong.”

The researchers found that female rock musicians were five times more likely to have reported having sex with a short-term partner without a condom. Male rock musicians, on the other hand, were more than four times to have tried stimulants and more than twice as likely as others to have tried hallucinogens.

Those who enjoyed “hard” music — such as punk, metal, techno, and rap — were also more likely to have higher scores on the measures of sex and drugs.

“There appeared to be an SDRR connection for male musicians of heavy music and female consumers of heavy music,” Harrison explained. “It made me think about common scenes I witnessed in the 1980s of male metal bands and female groupies and perhaps there are bioevolutionary reasons why we have seen and still see this.”

“In terms of ethology, interestingly, this mimics that which we might see in birds. Male birds commonly produce music (i.e., birdsong), and female birds judge those male birds by their songs. Evidence suggests female birds like complex and rapid birdsong. It sounds like the bird equivalent of heavy metal!”

There were no differences in age at first masturbation, age at first intercourse, and number of sex partners in the previous year for rock musicians versus everyone else.

Though the study provides some preliminary answers about the relationship between sex, drugs, and rock and roll, future research would benefit from larger samples that include more musicians.

“We surveyed college students and community musicians,” Harrison told PsyPost. “If we had an increased number of musicians in our sample, the results might be different.”

“This was done via self report. People can lie, and memories can fade. We asked people about musical ability versus testing their musical ability. We also provided theory as to the biological underpinnings but did not test for neurotransmitters. We thought that testosterone and dopamine might play a role in the sex differences we saw, so this should be tested.

“Also, the results were relatively weak, although they were congruent with those from a few similar studies,” Harrison added. “Also, we need to consider that SDRR might have once existed more strongly, but may be diminishing over time. People today appear to be more aware of the dangers of substance use and might refrain. More research is needed.”

The study, “Sex Drugs and Rock and Roll: Evidence Supporting the Storied Trilogy“, was also co-authored by Susan M. Hughes.