Sexualisation of Children

WHAT IS IT? Sexualisation is a big word to describe something that we see so often we might not even recognise it.

It is when children who are under the age of 12 (or at least look like they are), are made to dress, pose and wear make up in the same way that sexy adult models do.  It’s when children aren’t allowed to act or look like children, but rather made to look or behave like a much older sexual object (usually to sell a product).  Sexualisation of children happens when retail stores sell g-strings and padded bras for 7 year olds, its onesies for baby boys that say ‘I’m a tits man’, it’s when a 4 year old can buy high heels and a toy pole to dance around, it’s Bratz Dolls and Playboy (which, FYI, is a porn magazine for old men – eww) jewellery and t-shirts for babies that read, “All Daddy wanted was a blow job” and “P.I.M.P”.  Sadly all of these examples are real.

The development of one’s sexuality is a normal and healthy part of growing up for every individual.  But sexualisation is different from that.  There are a few parts to sexualisation that make it very different to healthy sexuality, and these are:

  • when person’s value comes only from his or her sexual ‘hotness’ or behaviour, without taking into account their personality,
  • a person’s physical attractiveness is judged by how ‘sexy’ they are (sexy being defined by what popular culture and the media tells us is sexy),
  • a person is sexually objectified — that means that they are made into a thing for other peoples sexual use, rather than seen as an individual person,
  • sexuality is inappropriately forced upon a person (like when an adult expression of sexuality is forced onto children who are not, at all, at that stage of their development).


SO, WHAT’S WRONG WITH IT? People are starting to be judged only on their sex appeal.  For some reason, sex appeal is seen as the best, most important thing a man/woman can offer the world.  As if it isn’t bad enough that that’s what adults are taught, we are now teaching our young boys/girls that the world is also judging them only on their sex appeal and these messages are everywhere. This is destructive to an adult – so just imagine the damage this message is causing someone who is only 9 years old and who doesn’t yet have the life experience to see when they are being used and manipulated by the adult world that they can’t avoid.  Professor Newman (from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists) says that, “Exposure to sexualising messages contributes to girls defining their self-worth and popularity in terms of sexual attractiveness, with negative impact on self-esteem. Excessive focus on appearance and a narrow definition of attractiveness has been found to contribute to the development of abnormal eating behaviours and lack of positive body image. Negative self-image is associated with depression, impaired sexual development in adolescence and poor self-protective behaviours in adolescent relationships.”

And what about the effect on boys and young men? Well, because all of this re-enforces the idea that women are only around for looking at or having sex with, it makes the assumption that all men want is a bit of eye candy and a warm body to have sex with.  How insulting is that? In the real world, boys and men want partners that they can have fun with, talk with and hang out with but the image everyone is being sold (literally – on shirts/ hats/ wallets/ in music lyrics/ etc) is that men should just want sex – they don’t need any more than that.  Bull crap!   So when highly sexualised images of girls and women are flooding our market, promoting only one kind of sexual expression and sexual orientation, men are also being directed into expressing their masculinity and sexuality in only one way.

HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO ‘RAPE CULTURE’? Children’s general sexual and emotional development is affected by exposure to advertising and marketing, just like everyone else, and so, so many of these media messages are full of sexualised images and themes. Now children are learning to sexualise themselves rather than chase other more age-appropriate developmental activities.

Sexual representations of adults in advertising and marketing often mix a few things together.  Women are treated as objects, sex is made out to be something you can buy or sell, and sex and violence are mixed in together. The messages and values that children absorb from these media messages are about so much more than how to dress.  Children are being taught unhealthy models for relationships at an age when they are not ready to learn about the adult world.  Also, the obvious fact; children grow up, so all of these values and messages grow with them and impact on their development, their self image, their beliefs, behaviours and the world that they build.

Image source: News Journal