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Do you think our society is over-sexualised?

(131 Posts)
MrsMerryHenry Sat 20-Jun-09 07:31:47

I have just been reading the chapter on sex in Steve Biddulph's 'Raising Boys', and it got me wondering about this question.

I noticed the stark difference between the UK and a place I've visited in rural Uganda, where there is little to no advertising, let alone magazines, TV, etc etc. I also felt that the people I encountered there had a purity about them, which was incredibly beautiful. In the UK I have only ever seen this in young children - it felt very much like we have lost something, rather than that they are missing out on something we have.

When I came back to London from a two-week jaunt in Uganda I was overwhelmed by how heavily all things sexual are promoted here. It was like being hit in the face time and time again, and then of course I became desensitised to it. But reading Biddulph's book has raised the issue again. I would love to have a thoughtful conversation here about these questions (and more - please do add more questions!):

1) Is our society oversexualised?
2) How does it really, truly benefit us to promote sexuality (a) in the way that we do; (b) as heavily as we do?
3) How does it disbenefit (for want of a better word) us - referring to (a) and (b) as above?
4) Is there a better alternative?

1) Yes. 13yr old girls wear more make-up, less clothes and higher heels than I used to when clubbing in my 20s. (lol how cats bum mouth do I sound!)

2) It doesn't. I suppose the answer to this question is money however. Sex sells and money makes our economy go round.

3) Childhood is a relatively recent concept but I do think that it has again been taken away from children by the over-sexualising of society. The concept of naviety and innocence seems to be lost.

4) Yes. It would be nice to go back to how childhood was in the 70s/80s (am sure I have idealised it tho as I had a magical childhood) but how adulthood is in the 00s IYSWIM. How do we achieve that? Stop putting such a high value on sexuality. How do we do that? No idea.

Just some thoughts but it is quite early on a Saturday!

mumski Sat 20-Jun-09 08:19:26

Hi Merry
This is something I have been thinking about for sometime too.
DDs of 13 and 14 and I'm horrified when I see the 'in your face' sexual imagery they encounter just on 'normal' telvision. I made them turnover from a chart show last week as the video - Justin Timberlake, was so graphic. Having discussed it with them,they kind of agree.The discussion was around 'apart from actual full sex, what wouldn't be allowed anymore'.

I agree we are very over sexualised as society and feel it does promote a norm that it is ok to use sex to sell and promote anything. Desensitivity is an obvious side effect, which then gets us into the men treating women only as sexual objects/she asked for it etc.

I would hate a return to the double standards of our parents generation but it is going way too far in the other direction.
What we can do about it? Not sure but small things would help such as images portrayed before the watershed.
Peeing in the wind as my partner has just opined, but you have to start somewhere. Not saying anything looks as if we are condoning it.

He feels that the worst offenders are the peddlars of R&B music, and unfortunately this has been a leading force in the music industry for the last 10 years - it will change over time - and good riddance.

ABetaDad Sat 20-Jun-09 08:38:35

I feel it is over sexualised and have for a long time.

My DSs are 9 and 7 and wonder how me and DW can explain to them about how normal sexual relationships work in the real world when the images they are already receiving are so overtly sexual.

Sex is a part of normal adult relationships of course but there is a lot more to it than that. The problem is that sex is the only part of of those normal human relationships that is pushed so hard.

I do also wonder what pressure this overt sexualisation puts on teenagers to start having sexual relationships very early when they are not emotionally ready.

mrsruffallo Sat 20-Jun-09 08:48:38

Mine are still little but I do worry about the amount of pressure on children/teenagers regarding body image and the importance of being attractive to the opposite sex.
It's hard enough dealing finding your place in the world without having your self worth wrapped up in image.
I hate the way sex is used to casually by advertisers and the tabloids are basically pornographic.

The only way to counteract it all is to encourage a healthy outdoor life methinks.

sarah293 Sat 20-Jun-09 08:52:28

Message withdrawn

JackBauer Sat 20-Jun-09 09:07:23

I have 2 DD's and this depresses me beyond belief. I am not looking forward to them growing up as I can believe it is only going to get worse. I was the youngest of 4 girls growing up and there was nothing like as much sexual imagery as thee is now. Even the back sof 'womens weeklies' have those chat line adverts or picture messages with tiny stars covering nipples etc. Or those godawful lelli Kelli adverts with free makeup.

I find it really hard to balance between 'normal' little girl copying mummy things (like wanting hair clips/nail varnish/ playing with makeup/wearing my heels) and stuff that is too much, like make up or high heels marketed at them.

I used to have the video music channels on when I was bored as a sort of radio. Now I don't dare.

cyteen Sat 20-Jun-09 09:20:23

Yes, it is completely saturated and it does make me anxious for the future. It annoys me enough that there always has to be a question about sex attached to everything, e.g. reading a news story about two friends who share a house, I find myself thinking in the back of my mind 'well surely there had to be something else going on there'. Or you might encounter a pair of very close same-sex friends and think hmm. It might be the inevitable backlash to years of hidden sexuality - all those close same sex friendships that really were sexual/loving partnerships - but I think the pendulum does swing too far the other way.

As for media saturation, yes it depresses the hell out of me. Not just all the obvious stuff like T&A mags being front and centre in every newsagent in town (while e.g. tattoo magazines are tucked away behind the bike mags or worse, on the top shelf with the porn as if they are something to be ashamed of), but more baffling trends like Chat! magazine's obsession with trailing violent sex crimes on the cover as if they are the biggest draw to its female target audience. Why would the average Chat! reader see a strapline like "RAPED - Defiled as she bled to death! And she was only 13" accompanied by a smiley picture of said girl, and think "that sounds like a bit of light relief, I can't wait to settle down with a cuppa to find out more".

Sorry, it's a bit early in the morning hence my stream of consciousness, but the short answer is yes I do and I'm not happy about it.

TitsalinaBumsquash Sat 20-Jun-09 09:24:22

Yes and its grim and very disturbing.

maria1665 Sat 20-Jun-09 09:33:10

The worst thing imo is going to choose a magazine or newspaper with the children, and having to look past the camera up the bum shots from the Daily Star, or the Zoo and Nuts magazines.

Porn is fine - but its place is in private. There is no respect or privacy anymore. Everything boils down to sex and money, money and sex. What's that doing to my little ones heads.

My husband has a theory that society - having been sexually liberated in the 60's - is now displaying its sexuality like an immature drunken teenager who suddenly has a key to the door. He thinks it will all settle down.

I wish it would soon. Its miserable - and so UN-sexy.

scrappydappydoo Sat 20-Jun-09 09:44:33

Yes - and it worries me with 2 dds. I kinda agree with your dh Maria - I think it has also has a lot to do with the whole 'kidult' thing - the adults behaving like children so are bringing childhood into adulthood and because of this adulthood has been brought into childhood iyswim. The definitions are becoming thinner. I don't where it will stop though.
From what I understand there are periods in history where things have got really bad and then swung the other way - so the whole repressive victorian thing was a response to the excesses of the previous period. Then the 'swinging twenties' followed by post-war 50's then liberated 60's etc...

hobbgoblin Sat 20-Jun-09 10:15:44

Nope I don't really think it has.

What I think has happened is that sex has become increasingly stylised along with every aspect of our mundane lives from washing up to getting dressed. We live in the age of advertising and advertising becomes ever more sophisticated and 'clever' as well as more and more removed from reality as it tries to sell the same old stuff in 'new' ways. Think of Tampax ads or coffee ads, there is nothing new about the product so the ads become stylised mini movies which are more about life enjoyment than the product itself...

All kinds of debauchery went on even in Roman times and children were as much seen as sexual objects if not more so.

If you look at the art and achitecture of even ancient Greek times it is essentially sexualised imagery with a male power bias. These days we have the same imagery, the same sexual urges and behaviours but we do at least have a trend towards balancing the sexual rights of women and children with those of men. We have the Children's Act, we have child protection services and we are beginning to allow sexual empowerment of women through enabling them to express their sexuality without fear.

However, alongside this we have the ability to publicisae and promte evry aspect of this social journey through the media and it is inevitable fodder for advertising where as already mentioned, it becomes stylised and removed from the more hum drum reality.

I am not certain that this fact results in behavioural change, I rather doubt it. We have not been lobotomised by the advertising industry and thus with perspective we can endure this barage of dramatised and beautified sexuality. Our children merely depend on us to keep perspective on their behalf until they become mature and independent. We have always done this as parents, perhaps more so now than when women as mothers had less power to disallow the sexual perversion of their offspring and themselves in more ancient times.

JackBauer Sat 20-Jun-09 10:37:00

Hobgoblin, intersting points about ancient times, but surely by saying that sex has become stylised and advertising companies using it to sell products in a life enjoyment way you are agreeing with us? Or can you explain what you mean a bit more as I didn't sleep wellsmile

The mere fact that it has become ok to use it in coffee/ tampax adverts shows that it is accepted by media to be onscreen all the time.

And we as intelligent MNer's may not hav e been lobotomised by advertising industry but I would agree with that on some parts of society grin

The fact that 'sex sells' is true enough, but it shouldn't be used at every opportunity surely?

Another point I wanted to make was a lot of children TV has 'love' themes that I find a bit hmm Like PIngu suddenly getting a girlfriend and wanting to kiss her all the time. I know kids do this, but there are loads of other things you could make an episode of Pingu about, aren't there?

HecatesTwopenceworth Sat 20-Jun-09 10:39:21

Yes. Everything is about sex. Advertising, music (have you SEEN the videos? porn, plain and simple!), clothes, attitudes...

I wonder if it's because our primary function as a species is to reproduce that we are programmed to have sex as our driving force, and that comes out in all these ways. I dunno. I'm probably talking bollocks grin. Whatever, it's pretty boring and I would have hoped that a so called 'intelligent' species like mankind would be able to be a little more than that. Or rather, would choose to be more than that.

maria1665 Sat 20-Jun-09 10:59:38

Just to add a bit of a feminist spin on this - the hyper sexualisation is really just another straitjacket. Women were assigned specific roles previously - now we've just been given another one, and its labelled sexual equality.

Real equality would be to stipulate that - in the national press at least - woman (and men for that matter) should be treated with respect.

ABetaDad Sat 20-Jun-09 11:07:36

hobbgoblin - interesting thoughts in your post. This bit encasulates my worry:

"Our children merely depend on us to keep perspective on their behalf until they become mature and independent."

I just wonder whether we can do that as adults for out children when there is really a constant barrage from the media of a different kind of message. Its not that I want my DSs to be kept 'innocent' but just think that being a teenage boy is hard enough without having to handle the enormous pressure to have sex.

I know from talking to other parents that teenagers are feeling under enormous pressure to have sexual relationships at a young age when they are just not ready. There has always been peer pressure but when the media is joining in as well it must be unbearable.

I would like to hear from parents with teenagers on MN whether they feel that pressure is there and how much the media plays its part.

hobbgoblin Sat 20-Jun-09 11:25:22

Well, I guess I am agreeing in as much as I agree we are possibly more exposed to sexual shennanigans. In the past, unless we were actually involved in an orgy we wouldn't be experiencing one. Now, you can eat your dinner and watch someone else having an orgasm somewhat unwittingly if you happen to have the TV on.

I think we should remember too that we have some influence on marketing and media. It's only because we watch and we buy that trends are created. Advertising is all about our own psychology - if it weren't it wouldn't work. Maybe it is a bit chicken and egg but my personal opinion is that the reality is we have become more sanitised and controlled in our thinking and behaviours over the centuries - a natural part of us elevating ourselves as superior intellectual beings - and thus we have become more 'afraid' of our more animalistic traits. Neverthless, we have primal urges which the media taps into very effectively and which advertising companies make excellent use of on a psychological level.

I may think it inappropriate that music videos are akin to porn, but I also find myself transfixed by them, titillated by them and so on. This is hardly surprising is it? I am human, I am sexual. It is the part of me that stops me indulging in bestiality and other acts of depravity that makes me deplore the reality and cover the eyes of my children when Snoop Dogg does his thing. (Some of his stuff is porn).

We can never have it both ways. The moment we achieve absolute control over the dark recesses of our minds, and have cultivated effective ways of wiping out all behaviour associated with them will be the moment our instinct becomes so blighted that we cease to exist and procreate.

Moral and intellectual sophistication must come at a price. We know that.

What I find disturbing is along the lines of what maria1665 says...in our bid to become more controlled and refined as beings we have assigned ourselves and one another 'roles' designed to illustrate our forward thinking superiority. "Wow! we can be inclusive, non-discriminatory, permissive and tolerant, look at us!" "Er, whoops, no we can't, we are uncomfortable with this, it goes against stuff deep inside us, particularly us men, let's carry on with the facade because it makes us look rad and smart and superior". And so the women buy vibrators at the same time as ordering Cath Kidston oven gloves and the men buy more porn because they can't touch up their secretary by the photocopier and get away with it anymore.

Or soemthing like that...

hobbgoblin Sat 20-Jun-09 11:43:59

ABetaDad, sure. Whatever the whys and wherefores, we have more of that barrage to deal with so the job of moderating exposure is much harder than it would have been even in, say, Victorian times. Even as an ancient Greek you'd have to make it to the Agora to see anything rude going on probably although you might have got wind of your dad shagging your mother or your mother's brother more readily, on balance.

So, do we see more sanitised, stylised sex these days in greater volume or did we see less sex going on years ago but it was more worrying because it involved paedophilia, prostitution and bestiality more often?

Can we evolve sexually do you think? I mean truly evolve beyond the man as hunter gatherer sower of oats deal?

I read an article in New Scientist about women, in the evolutionary sense, being just as likley to do the same as men by exposing their seed to as many oats as possible, as it were. So, maybe even when women are being whored about in brothels they are not demonstrating sexual subservience...hmm

What is sexual equality exactly I wonder? Where's solidgold?

scaryteacher Sat 20-Jun-09 13:42:32

I run a Youth club at my son's school for years 7-9 and I have been shocked by the way some of the girls dress, and that their mothers condone it. I also have worries that some of the teenage boys won't interpret the mixed messages correctly and that there is going to be at some stage an unpleasant incident.

I do think that the onus is on the parents too to stop the sexualisation of our children. I police very carefully what my 13yo ds sees on TV. We can refuse to buy the fashions, the magazines, the music; we can police how they dress, how much makeup the girls wear etc. I know that it can be a terrible hassle when they and you want different things, but in the end we are there to be their parents, not their best friend and sometimes we have to say no.

As for ds's and sexual relationships, we have full and fairly frank discussions about this, and I have told him that he needs to wait until he is ready to have sex. He's thankfully more interested in Warhammer than girls yet, but I am sure this will change and then we will have to talk about what messages are being given out and how to handle that.

ABetaDad Sat 20-Jun-09 17:45:43

scaryteacher - you raised an issue that I was reluctant to. I do worry that girls at the senior school where my DSs are (they are the junior school) at unwittingly sending out very mixed messages to teenage boys of their age. I stress the word unwittingly because the girls are only responding to the imagery they see in the media in the way they dress and the way they behave.

How are teenage boys supposed to respond to those mixed messages? On the one hand they have their natural hormonal sex drive which even in teenage boys can be powerful but then they are told to treat girls with respect which to their credit the boys largely do. I do think parents of teenage girls do though need to talk to their girls about the message and the self image they project - exactly as you do.

My DW comments on this especially and she says that sometimes she wishes she could go into the school and talk frankly to the girls about how they wil be perceived when they go to University and job interviews. She says it must be very difficult for male teachers to say anything about this issue.

Equally, I think parents of boys like me and DW need to explain to our teenage boys that they must not feel pressured into sex by their male peers or expect teenage girls to agree to it. No matter what image girls project or what other boys say or what media images and messages they get.

hobbgoblin Sat 20-Jun-09 18:54:14

I hope these last points by scary and beta can be debated without uproar at the suggestion that girls can be provocative, albeit unintentionally.

Do we think that the male sex drive is more powerful than that of the female then? Or is it just that boys are too smelly and scruffy to lure the girls into situations where the boy winds up being taken advantage of? wink

oh "the female of the species is more deadlier than the male"

monkeytrousers Sat 20-Jun-09 19:07:40

I would say not actually. I used to think the opposite. I held a typocally feminist view of it until very recently.

And I think what you see in Uganda is not an accurate representation of their issues with sexuality. Rape is a major problem, much more than here - as is FGM.

monkeytrousers Sat 20-Jun-09 19:19:08

Scaryteacher - I would say the onus is on parents teaching our kids that messages get mixed sometimes. That sex is a complicated business but that it is about fun and consent. Those two go hand in hand.

Kids need to explore their sexualities - hiding it under a bushel just confuses them even more. Yojng girls behave like this in all cultures around the world (where they are not basically impriisoned) so it does not stand that they are simply reponding to the media around them.

Beta - study after study shows than males do interpret 'friendly' signs as often being solicitous when if you asked the woman they were just being friendly. This has huge implications I think, for rape prosecution policy and more. But it is worth letting both boys know that their instincts may well be wrong on many many occasions. I think the ouns should be on parents of boys to let them know this.

as for sex drive - go an watch a boyband in concert and see the female sex drive as strong and potent as the male.

"My DW comments on this especially and she says that sometimes she wishes she could go into the school and talk frankly to the girls about how they wil be perceived when they go to University and job interviews." I am not sure what you mean by this - negativly you mean? By who?

ABetaDad Sat 20-Jun-09 20:25:18

This is what DW says:

You wear a jacket that is buttoned, you wear a shirt that is buttoned apart from the top one, you wear a skirt that is down to the knee or just above the knee. You wear sensible stylish shoes that you can walk around all day in.

In other words, you look like a business man would in a suit and tie but without the tie. You behave professionally as if you have come to do a job of serious work. that way you wil be taken seriously. You do not look and behave as if you are going to a night club.

Bit strong and strict maybe, but she went to a Catholic girls school and that was drummed into her. She used to work as a stockbroker and used to go to night clubs at 14 too so she knows both sides of the coin.

Agree with you on boys misinterpreting things and yes that is a strong message we want to give DSs.

monkeytrousers Sat 20-Jun-09 20:30:28

Kind of ties in with some theories that women 'oppress' other women's sexuality as much, if not more, than men.

A bit like Anna Ford (starling beauty that she was) complaining that older women don't get jobs as newsreaders. She wasn't complaining about it when the shoe was on the other foot..

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