People are worried about sexualization; about children becoming sexual at too young an age; about the ways in which women may be being defined by their sexuality; and about the availability and potential effects of online pornography, to name but a few
of the often repeated concerns.
The word sexualization has been used to mean many things and to refer to a wide range of issues. This report aims to summarize what is known -- and not yet known -- on each of the main areas of concern.
The term sexualization was virtually non-existent in news headlines in 2005, but since then it has been widely used. Sexualization has become a political and policy issue; the topic of several significant reports and of comment by leading
The contributors to this report are conscious of the inaccurate and sometimes sensationalist information that often circulates publicly about sexualization, not only in media and popular books, but also in policy reports, statements by politicians and
other public figures, as well as in some academic work.
Our aim is to set out clearly what current good research tells us about these issues, and make clear what is known and what is not known or is unclear.
The report addresses the wide range of issues relating to sex, sexuality and sexual health and wellbeing that seem to underpin public anxieties that are now commonly expressed as concerns about sexualization . These include STIs, pregnancy,
addiction, dysfunction, violence, abuse, sex work, sexual practices, different forms of sexuality, medicalization, commerce, media and popular culture.
Governments are justified in using the law to prevent modelling agencies from using very skinny women on catwalks and stop
magazines from printing adverts and photographs that suggest extreme thinness is attractive, according to research from the London School of Economics.
The first-ever economic analysis of anorexia, studying nearly 3,000 young women in the UK and the rest of Europe, found that the social and cultural environment influences decisions by young women to starve themselves in search of what they perceive to
be an ideal body shape.
Anorexia, say the researchers, is a socially transmitted disease and appears to be more common in countries such as France, where women are thinner than the European average. It mostly affects girls and women between the ages of 15 and 34, they found,
who were willing to trade off their health against self-image.
LSE economist Dr Joan Costa-Font and Professor Mireia Jofre-Bonet from City University say that reducing the mass circulation of pictures of emaciated models and celebrities and restricting adverts in which they feature could lift some of the social
pressure women feel to be thin.
Government intervention to adjust individual biases in self-image would be justified to curb the spread of a potential epidemic of food disorders, they write in their paper, to be published in the academic journal Economica later this year.
Psychologists from Middlesex University and the University of Surrey claim that, far from being harmless or ironic
fun, lads' mags could be legitimising hostile sexist attitudes.
The researchers claim that when presented with [out of context, carefully selected, and nebulous] descriptions of women taken from lads' mags, and comments about women made by convicted rapists, most people who took part in the study could not
distinguish the source of the quotes.
The research due to be published in the British Journal of Psychology also revealed that most men who took part in the study identified themselves more with the language expressed by the convicted rapists.
Psychologists presented men between the ages of 18 and 46 with a range of statements taken from magazines and from convicted rapists in the study, and gave the men different information about the source of the quotes. Men identified more with the
comments made by rapists more than the quotes made in lads' mags, but men identified more with quotes said to have been drawn from lads' mags more than those said to have been comments by convicted rapists.
The researchers also asked a separate group of women and men aged between 19 and 30 to rank the quotes on how derogatory they were, and to try to identify the source of the quotes. Men and women rated the quotes from lads' mags as somewhat more
derogatory, and could categorize the quotes by source little better than chance.
Dr Miranda Horvath and Dr Peter Hegarty argue that the findings are consistent with the possibility that lads' mags normalise hostile sexism, by making it seem more acceptable when its source is a popular magazine.
Horvath, lead researcher from Middlesex University, said: We were surprised that participants identified more with the rapists' quotes, and we are concerned that the legitimisation strategies that rapists deploy when they talk about women are
more familiar to these young men than we had anticipated.
Horvath, is concerned that lads' magazine editors are not working hard enough to moderate the content of their magazines: A lot of debate around the regulation of lads' mags has been to do with how they affect children but less has been said
about the influence they have on their intended audience of young men and the women with whom those men socialise.
These magazines support the legitimisation of sexist attitudes and behaviours and need to be more responsible about their portrayal of women, both in words and images. They give the appearance that sexism is acceptable and normal - when really
it should be rejected and challenged. Rapists try to justify their actions, suggesting that women lead men on, or want sex even when they say no, and there is clearly something wrong when people feel the sort of language used in a lads' mag could
have come from a convicted rapist.
Hegarty, of the University of Surrey's Psychology Department, added: There is a fundamental concern that the content of such magazines normalises the treatment of women as sexual objects. We are not killjoys or prudes who think that there
should be no sexual information and media for young people. But are teenage boys and young men best prepared for fulfilling love and sex when they normalise views about women that are disturbingly close to those mirrored in the language of sexual
offenders? He added that young men should be given credible sex education and not have to rely on lads' mags as a source of information as they grow up.
The media is not to blame for sexualising teenagers, according to study which shows young people are
more influenced by factors inside the home.
Young people seek out racy programmes and magazines to satisfy pre-existing appetites, which are determined in large part by how they are brought up.
While campaigners have long blamed the media for forcing sexualised imagery on children and teens, the study found that those teenagers with an interest actively seek it out.
Psychologist Laurence Steinberg, from Temple University, Philadelphia, analysed data from 2006 claiming that children between the ages of 12 and 14 who consumed a large amount of sexualised media including films, television, music and magazines
were more likely to have sex by age 16.
Various aspects of the teenagers' lives were studied, including school performance, religiousness, parental relationships, and perceptions of friends' attitudes about sex.
Dr Steinberg claims his findings, published in the online journal Developmental Psychology , gives the mass media a strong defence over accusations of sexualising young children.
It may look like media exposure leads to sexual activity, but the relation between the two is artificial, he said: If a child reports being very religious, he or she will be less likely to have sex at a younger age, but will also be less
likely to consume sexualised media. Instead of pointing a collective finger at the entertainment industry, the most important influences on adolescents' sexual behaviour are probably closer to home.
However, Vivienne Pattison of Mediawatch-UK unscientifically overruled the findings: The findings of these surveys tend to be very contradictory. It is very hard for anyone to avoid being exposed to sexual material these days. On my way to work
this morning I went past a billboard with a semi-naked woman on it, even thought it had nothing to do with what it was advertising.
Exposure to sexually explicit media at a young age can lead to a range of problems, including low self-esteem, eating disorders and sexually transmitted diseases. While these problems are difficult for teenagers to cope with, we are
particularly concerned by their impact on young children, who are becoming increasingly sexualised by the miasma of explicit material that they are surrounded by.
A moral panic around childhood sexualisation and the dangers of the internet is closing down important channels of debate and making the internet a more dangerous place for adults and young people alike.
That was the consensus view taken by Onscenity, an international network launched this week, which draws together experts to respond to the new visibility or onscenity of sex in commerce, culture and everyday life.
David Buckingham, Professor of Education at the Institute of Education, London University, and Director of the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media, complained about the current media panic over the sexualisation of childhood. While
some issues went away with the last government, David Cameron also appears to believe this is a problem.
The real problem, though, is that no one knows what sexualisation is: it is a convenient label used to position the child as always the victim, and then to pile every problem imaginable on top, including paedophilia, body image, sex trafficking
and self-esteem. Once that particular juggernaut gets rolling, it is almost impossible to have a sensible debate about what's really going on.
Too many so-called experts – most famously, Dr Linda Papadopoulos - were speaking well outside their field of expertise. Eating disorders get ascribed to sexualisation , despite the fact that most dietary experts would question that conclusion.
Worse is the way in which this debate is almost always framed in moralising terms, and a key question must be what political motive lies behind such framing.
Equally of concern was the way in which healthy sexuality is so often equated to non-commercial – as though sex alone can be an activity free from all commercial influence.
Boys exposed to porn are more likely to indulge in casual sex and less likely to form successful relationships when they grow older, according to research carried out in a dozen countries.
The report, Harms of Pornography Exposure Among Children and Young People, also found that young boys who see pornography are more inclined to believe there is nothing wrong with pinning down or sexually harassing a girl.
Michael Flood, who carried out the study at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, said: There is compelling evidence from around the world that pornography has negative effects on individuals and communities.
We know it is shaping sexual knowledge. Some people may think that is good. But porn is a very poor sex educator because it shows sex in unrealistic ways and fails to address intimacy, love, connection or romance. Often it is quite callous and
hostile in its depictions of women. It doesn't mean that every young person is going out to rape somebody but it does increase the likelihood that will happen.
Research in the UK suggests that 60% of boys under 16 have been exposed to pornography, accidentally or deliberately. The average age at which they first saw porn has dropped from 15 to 11 in less than a decade. The average amount of time they
watch porn on the internet is 90 minutes a week.
Such is the international spread of porn through the internet that youngsters in Asian and African countries see blonde white women on screen and then regard tourists with the same attributes as sex objects, Flood says.
However, Thaddeus Birchard, a psychotherapist who runs a sex addiction practice in London, said: We are entering a period of moral panic and this is part of it. Children are not receiving sex education at home. Sexually explicit material on the
net can even help educate them.
Research correlates children watching adult TV with early teen sex
I suspect that this research is nonsense and that the underlying correlation is that parentally restricted viewing indicates a generally more pro-active middle class upbringing. This then better explains the lack of early teen sex.
According to recent studies children who watch adult TV programme shows are a third more likely to become sexually active in their early teens. The younger they are exposed to screen content meant for their parents, the sooner they lose their virginity
during adolescence, the research showed. It found that for every hour the youngest group of children watched adult programmes over the two sample days, their chances of having sex during early adolescence increased by 33%.
Dr Hernan Delgado, who carried out the study, said: Television and movies are among the leading sources of information about sex and relationships for adolescents. His team tracked 754 girls and boys, between the ages of six and eighteen, and
recorded their viewing habits over a sample weekday and weekend day.
The participants' onset of sexual activity was then identified during the second stage of the study. Then six to eight-year-olds watched grown up shows they were more likely to have sex earlier when compared those who watched less adult-targeted
Dr David Bickham, the co-author of the study which was presented at the Paediatric Academic Societies meetings in Baltimore, said : Adult entertainment often deals with issues and challenges that adults face, including the complexities of sexual
relationships. Children have neither the life experience nor the brain development to fully differentiate between a reality they are moving toward and a fiction meant solely to entertain. Children learn from media, and when they watch media with sexual
references and innuendos, our research suggests they are more likely to engage in sexual activity earlier in life.
The researchers urged parents to follow paediatricians' viewing guidelines such as no television in the bedroom, no more than one to two hours of screen time a day, and to watch TV shows and have an open dialogue about the content with children.
Men are more likely to think of women as objects if they have looked at sexy pictures of females beforehand, psychologists have claimed.
Researchers used brain scans to show that when men looked at pictures of women in bikinis, areas of the brain that normally light up in anticipation of using tools, like spanners and screwdrivers, were activated. Scans of some of the men found that a
part of the brain associated with empathy for other peoples' emotions and wishes shut down after looking at the pictures.
Sex extermination object Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University in New Jersey, said the changes in brain activity suggest sexy images can shift the way men perceive women, turning them from people to interact with, to objects to act upon.
The finding confirms a long-suspected effect of sexy images on the way women are perceived, and one which persists in workplaces and the wider world today, Fiske claimed: When there are sexualised images in the workplace, it's hard for people not to
think about their female colleagues in those terms. It spills over from the images to the workplace.
In the study, Fiske's team put straight men into an MRI brain scanner and showed them images of either clothed men and women, or more scantily clad men and women. When they took a memory test afterwards, the men best remembered images of bikini-clad
women whose heads had been digitally removed.
The brain scans showed that when men saw the images of the women's bodies, activity increased in part of the brain called the premotor cortex, which is involved in urges to take action. The same area lights up before using power tools to do DIY. "It's as if they immediately thought to act on theses bodies,"
In the final part of the study, Fiske asked the men to fill in a questionnaire that was used to assess how sexist they were. The brain scans showed that men who scored highest had very little activity in the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions that
are involved with understanding another person's feelings and intentions. They're reacting to these women as if they're not fully human, Fiske said.
Girls are growing up at risk of psychological damage from a society that exposes them to clothes, toys and images carrying sexual overtones, a new report has warned.
The study, from the American Psychological Association (APA), said a generation of girls could face problems ranging from depression to eating disorders and unhealthy sexual development because the marketing industry wanted to
"sexualise" them at an ever younger age.
It cited the availability of clothes aimed at children, including thongs carrying slogans such as "eye candy", mini-skirts and low-cut tops, as examples of a society that was in danger of turning young girls into sexual objects.
The APA report also looked at toys, music and other media, such as films and magazines. One particular target was the Bratz dolls, which outsell Barbie in the UK, who wear raunchy gear such as hot pants, fishnet stockings and feather boas.
Even the Disney Corporation was criticised. The study singled out cartoons including The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas for featuring characters which have more cleavage, fewer clothes, and are depicted as 'sexier' than those of
Eileen Zurbriggen, one of the APA report's main authors, said: The consequences of the sexualisation of girls in media today are very real and are likely to be a negative influence on girls' healthy development. Girls develop their identities
by modelling what they see older girls doing and by imitating the ways in which women are represented in the media.
The 72-page study urges parents to encourage their children not to fixate on appearance and to resist pressure to conform to celebrity notions of glamour.
A RAND Corporation study finds adolescents who listen to a great deal of music with
degrading sexual lyrics have sex sooner
The study supposedly presents the strongest evidence yet that sexually degrading lyrics in music encourage adolescents to more quickly initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities.
The study found that the more time adolescents spend listening to music with sexually degrading lyrics, the more likely they are to initiate intercourse and other sexual activities. This holds true for boys and girls as well as for whites and
nonwhites, even after accounting for a wide range of other personal and social factors associated with adolescent sexual behavior.
Researchers found that only sexually degrading lyrics – many quite graphic and containing strong language– are related to changes in adolescents' sexual behavior. These lyrics depict men as sexually insatiable, women as sexual objects, and sexual
intercourse as inconsequential. Other songs about sex do not appear to influence youth the same way.
These portrayals objectify and degrade women in ways that are clear, but they do the same to men by depicting them as sex-driven studs, said Steven Martino, a RAND psychologist who led the study. Musicians who use this type of sexual
imagery are communicating something very specific about what sexual roles are appropriate, and teen listeners may act on these messages.
The study, titled Exposure to Degrading Versus Non-Degrading Music Lyrics and Sexual Behavior among Youth, is published in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.
With funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, RAND researchers surveyed 1,461 adolescents ages 12 to 17 from across the nation in 2001, asking them about their sexual behavior and how often they listened to music
by various artists. The participants were followed up one and three years later.
Adolescents typically listen to 1.5 to 2.5 hours of music per day, which does not include the amount of time they are exposed to music through music videos. Studies show that about 40% of popular songs contain references to romance, sexual
relationships, and sexual behavior. One earlier study suggested a link between adolescents' exposure to sexual content in music and their sexual behavior, but that earlier effort had several shortcomings, according to RAND researchers.
In the RAND study, information about listening habits was combined with the results of a scientific analysis of lyrics' sexual content to determine the frequency and type of sexual content the adolescents were exposed to during the time they spent
listening to music.
Researchers found that adolescents who listened to a lot of music containing objectifying and limiting characterizations of sexuality progressed more quickly in their sexual behavior than did adolescents who listened to less of this kind of music.
Because teenagers have more unplanned pregnancies and are more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases, increasing rates of sexual activity among this population has serious public health implications. Federal statistics show that about
750,000 teens around the country become pregnant each year, and an estimated 4 million contract sexually transmitted diseases.
In addition, exposure to sexually degrading music may also have worrisome implications for what boys and girls come to expect from their future relationships.
It may be that girls who are repeatedly exposed to these messages expect to take a submissive role in their sexual relationships and to be treated with disrespect by their partners, Martino said. These expectations may then have lasting
effects on their relationship choices. Boys, on the other hand, may come to interpret reckless male sexual behavior as ‘boys being boys' and dismiss their partners' feelings and welfare as unimportant.
The study recommends that parents set limits on what music their children can purchase and listen to and be careful not to listen to sexually degrading music when their children are around.