The more I look around, the greater the evidence that America is struggling with sexuality. In the media, sexuality is exploited to grab your attention and manipulated to sell you something (beauty trends, diet fads, etc.). Photoshop is a tool of the trade to hide blemishes, scars, stretch marks, and to elongate parts of models’ bodies to make them even more sexually ‘appealing’. In most religious practices, explicit sexuality is shunned and sex is to be reserved exclusively for procreation – shame on you if you enjoy sex as a spiritual or intimate experience, you’re supposed to be devoid of passion whilst procreating. Tsk-tsk.
Which is right? Is there a ‘right’? Is there a middle ground? Let’s dissect this concept and dive a little deeper into sexuality in our society.
The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a study in 2009 about the use of social media by youth, and it reported that youth ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day on entertainment media (approximately 53 hours a week). This does not include the youth that ‘media multitask’ on several entertainment media streams simultaneously, and in those instances, the focus on this media can collectively pack over 10 hours of exposure into that 7.5 hours. This is an astronomical amount of youth time being spent on t.v., radio, music, social media, the internet, etc.
As we know, t.v., music, and the internet are saturated with adult content, and beyond that category comes sexual images and references whether in the form of marketing, comedy, and the ever-so-popular risque ‘selfies’ posted on various social media outlets to vie for adoration.
The American Psychological Association reported on the harm of sexualizing girls on youth’s perception of the world around them. Read it – it’s worth your time. One section I found to be of particular interest is as follows:
“Societal messages that contribute to the sexualization of girls come not only from media and merchandise but also through girls’ interpersonal relationships (e.g., with parents, teachers, and peers; Brown & Gilligan, 1992). Parents may contribute to sexualization in a number of ways. For example, parents may convey the message that maintaining an attractive physical appearance is the most important goal for girls. Some may allow or encourage plastic surgery to help girls meet that goal. Research shows that teachers sometimes encourage girls to play at being sexualized adult women (Martin, 1988) or hold beliefs that girls of color are “hypersexual” and thus unlikely to achieve academic success (Rolón-Dow, 2004). Both male and female peers have been found to contribute to the sexualization of girls — girls by policing each other to ensure conformance with standards of thinness and sexiness (Eder, 1995; Nichter, 2000) and boys by sexually objectifying and harassing girls. Finally, at the extreme end, parents, teachers and peers, as well as others (e.g., other family members, coaches, or strangers) sometimes sexually abuse, assault, prostitute or traffic girls, a most destructive form of sexualization.”
Moreover, youth are experimenting with sex at increasingly earlier ages. Yes, sex is a normal part of life. Yes, sex is a healthy function of an adult. However, the issues surrounding early youth experimentation with sexual acts are rooted in the lack of emotional maturity youth possess to process and understand how their feelings manifest, what those feelings mean, and in turn, can easily lead to youth becoming desensitized to sex. Naturally, if one is desensitized to sex they will act in a way that shows no remorse for the feelings of others when engaging in sexual activities, and these individuals may pursue excessive sexual encounters and/or cheating as a way to fulfill a need impulsively rather than work through the deeper issues. This is no exception for youth.
Sexualization of young women, as detailed on the American Psychological Assocation, leads to a host of negative life issues – eating disorders, insecurities, unhealthy obsessions, and depression, to name a few.
Many religions define a woman’s role in life as subordinate to men. Women are property of their father, then they become the property of their husband. That’s the concept of marriage in a nutshell. Women should dress very modestly, save any sexual experiences for after marriage, and should birth plenty of offspring. This belief system can lead women to feel inadequate or lacking in a way that makes her see herself as equal with her male counterpart. It also gives girls the impression that their life path is predetermined. This can have long-term impact on both genders.
Finding a Balance -
Having been a victim of rape, I know the horrible darkness that can consume a woman that is treated as an object, used against her will, then discarded. It is extremely difficult to overcome the petrifying fear of such an experience occurring again (as it did in my dreams for several years), but the way I overcame this was by slowly desexualizing myself. As women, we’re taught through the media and our parenting generating that we are most importantly how we look, and that our success is directly correlated with the attractiveness and financial status of the men we date and eventually marry. We need to start allowing girls to define themselves and their worth before we box them into a sexualized package that constantly requires external validation. No, girls should not feel obligated to wear make-up. No, girls should not feel that they have to resort to displaying their bodies to garner attention. No, girls should not have to cover most of their body because it ‘distracts’ boys. One minute, the female body is shunned, and another moment, the female body is lusted over. We send too many conflicting messages to our young girls, and inherently are causing them significant internal turmoil. We want to promote strength in our girls to pursue what is meaningful to them. No longer do we live in an age where women are confined to household work, so therefore, the end goal of ‘attract a man to take care of you’ is no longer necessary or desirable. In addition, we do not need to make young girls feel obligated to one day birth children. Not all women (or men) are meant to be parents. That’s okay. It is far better for our society that reproduction be selective as opposed to expected.
I believe that in time, with a growing effort to support our girls in the pursuit of higher education, in the arts, in business, and overall independence, we can shift from the sex-crazed society we live in to a healthier and balanced nation that we can all be proud to live in.
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