'Sex' Sells: The Success of Sex & Love Songs on the Billboard Charts

Madonna performing in 1984.
Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Madonna performing in 1984.

The recurring themes of "sex" and "love" in music have been put under a microscope in a new study by Superdrug Online Doctor that weighs the success those words in music against each other over the past half century. 

The survey looks at every song on the Billboard Hot 100 charts from 1960 to 2014 and counts the occurrences of "love" and "sex," as well as words that include them like "beloved and "sexual," in effort to diagnose music's most prevalent theme. Each word use is counted once in a song, with songs counted for as many weeks as they appeared on the Hot 100 chart. 

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That "love" wins in mentions drastically overall should probably come as no surprise (the number of "love" mentions remains consistently above 10,000 over this period, while "sex" peaks at a little over 1,500) but the trends of use are interesting and ripe for reflection. 

The success of songs mentioning "love" has been strong since the beginning of the test, but saw its peak in 1988, performing high in the surrounding years. Meanwhile, "sex" mentions peaked in 2009 with help from Ciara's "Love Sex Magic" and Jeremih's "Birthday Sex," which were both in the Billboard Hot 100's top 10. As well, curiously, "sex" mentions see peaks and dips in popularity almost year to year. 

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The use of "sex" in song titles and lyrics was uncommon until the late 1980s, which the report suggests MTV's rise in popularity might be partially responsible. It also states a general growth in sexualized content across all media, as "occurrences of sexual content on television almost doubled between 1997 and 2001."

As for artists who lead with most popular uses of each term: Overall Madonna tops the list for most hit "love" songs, followed by Stevie Wonder and Chicago. Meanwhile, the Black Eyed Peas lead for "sex" hits, followed by Bruno Mars and TLC

James Brown, Rick James and R. Kelly, respectively top the list of musicians who mention "sex" most frequently in their hit songs. The Glee cast, Aretha Franklin and Luther Vandross go the more wholesome route, overall, mentioning "love" more frequently than anyone in each song of their hit songs surveyed. 

Read the full report here