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Evaluating the impact of hyper-sexualisation on the lives of young people

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274 British Journal of School Nursing July/August 2017 Vol 12 No 6
Public Health
© 2017 MA Healthcare Ltd
Evaluating the impact
of hyper-sexualisation on
the lives of young people
While we have witnessed sexualised
imagery regularly within advertising and
communications since mass media rst
began, what has been emerging in recent years is an
unprecedented rise in both the volume and the extent of
which these images are both impinging on and gaining
increased favour into the lives of young people.
‘How have sex, sexiness and sexualisation gained
such favour in recent years as to be the measure by
which womens and girls’ worth is judged? While
it is not a new phenomenon by any means, there is
something dierent about the way it occurs today
and how it impacts on younger and younger girls.
(McLellan, 2010 cited by Papadopoulos, 2010: 5)
Healthy sexuality is an important part of a person’s
physical and psychological health and wellbeing. When
based on mutual care and respect between consenting
partners it fosters intimacy, and bonding, as well as
shared pleasure.
Sexualisation and further hyper-sexualisation is the
imposition of adult sexuality on a child or young
Stephanie Enson, young people's sexual health and
relationship practitioner
Abstract
This is the rst of a two-part mini-series of articles exploring the
impact of hyper-sexualisation and pornography on the lives of young
people (particularly females) in relation to their values, beliefs and
relationships in today’s world.
This rst article focuses on exploring the impact of hyper-
sexualisation on young people’s values, beliefs, expectations
and relationships. Preventative strategies are discussed and
counteractive measures are suggested.
Key words
n Safeguarding n Sexualisation n Media
n Relationships n Young people n RSE
person before he or she has acquired the emotional and
psychological capacity to understand it. Sexualisation is
related to the sexual objectication of a person.
It should be remembered that sexual curiosity is a
normal feature of childhood and, as such, we have a
duty to assist young people to acquire the skills
and awareness to enable them to both deal with
sexual content safely and build non-exploitative
representations of gender and sexuality that promote
sexual equality. In today’s world, however, there are
many negative external forces continuously impinging
on young people’s lives and as a result negating their
internal belief systems (the mechanism by which they
‘make sense’ of the world) around issues of gender,
sexuality and personal identity.
Factors contributing to the
sexualisation of young people
Media inuence
e media has a signicant part to play in the belief
systems we hold and cultural ‘norms’ we aspire to, for
example on beauty ideals and the concept of masculinity:
Beauty
Ideals of beauty presented through the media today have
become both arbitrary and limiting (often expressed
through a narrow lens of acceptability and holding very
little diversity); for example, airbrushed models are
continuously portrayed as having bodies that even they
do not possess.
e eects of such imagery on young girls who do not
have the experience and ability to lter these messages,
nor the condence and self-esteem to contextualise what
they are seeing, conveys to them a message which comes
across loud and clear (Papadopoulos, 2010: 51):
...the only thing that matters is being attractive and
the only way to be attractive is to be submissive and
overtly sexual…
‘If you’re told that being pretty means being thin,
that being attractive means showing o a “sexy
body” or that objectifying women makes you
July/August 2017 Vol 12 No 6 British Journal of School Nursing 275
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© 2017 MA Healthcare Ltd
“more of a man” enough times, you start to believe
it’s true’.
Such kind of continuous media bombardment directed
toward young people begins a process of internalisation
that is both gradual and insidious. But it is not only
femininity that has become subjected to such extremely
narrow forms of gender stereotyping.
Changing concepts of masculinity
Within western society, the concept of the archetypal
masculine male has historically been perceived as one
which is less willing to show emotions, reluctant to show
sensitivity and more willing to subdue feminine aspects
of himself (for fear of detracting from preconceived
masculine ideas). We are now, however, witnessing
a more extreme hyper-masculinised image of this.
Particularly in media games and videos, where the
hyper-masculinised image of manhood is now being
hailed as having no emotional consideration of women
at all. Indeed in some of these it is encouraged to show
a total disregard for women’s needs or wants through
dominance and control, to use and abuse them for their
personal gratification and to show violence toward
them (Papadopoulos, 2010: 12).
In a TED Talk, Adichie (2012) said:
...we do a great disservice to boys … we dene
masculinity in a very narrow way … masculinity
becomes a hard, small cage we put boys into … we
teach boys to come afraid of fear, weakness and
vulnerability … afraid of their own feeling…
Adichie highlights this very well. We must all question
our gender-based assumptions and take personal
responsibility for the unlearning of internalised negative
social constructs.
Watson (2014), in her launching speech for the 2014
international HeForShe campaign, stated:
‘It is time we all perceived gender on a spectrum
instead of 2 sets of opposing ideals … if we stop
dening ourselves by what we are not and start
dening ourselves by who we are, we can all be
f r e e r …’
Television, music and video
Women on TV soaps are portrayed more often than not
through narrow gender stereotypes and scenes involving
violence against women are increasingly commonplace.
Music channels and videos across all genres have
been found to sexualise and objectify women; for
example, scantily clad young women engaged in highly
‘While we have witnessed sexualised imagery regularly within advertising and communications since mass media
rst began, what has been emerging in recent years is an unprecedented rise in both volume and extent of which these
images are both impinging on and gaining increased favour into the lives of young people.
Adobe Stock
276 British Journal of School Nursing July/August 2017 Vol 12 No 6
Public Health
© 2017 MA Healthcare Ltd
provocative dance, as a background to highly sexualised
lyrics, is commonplace.
Advertising and teen magazines
Child ambassadors
Some designer fashion houses are now using celebrity
children as ‘child ambassadors’ to advertise merchandise
in the hope of attracting a younger clientele—this is just
one example of child sexualisation from the retail and
fashion world.
Teen magazines
Teen magazines are awash with airbrushed images
of hyper-sexual females oen in submissive positions,
having questionable resemblance to even the models
themselves.
Continuous exposure to this kind of imagery oen
leads to body surveillance or constant monitoring of
one’s personal appearance, which in turn can easily
lead to body dissatisfaction—a recognised risk factor
for poor self-esteem, depression and eating disorders
(Papadopoulos, 2010: 6).
rough exposure to increasing amounts of hyper-
sexualised images young people are sold the idea that
they must look ‘sexy’ and ‘hot’ to be accepted.
For any child the pressure is huge, but what about
those children who do not t this narrow lens of ’norm,
such as people who are LGBTQ+, disabled or perhaps
from a minority ethnic background? Such ideas of
female beauty are not only narrow and unrealistic, they
are also oen racially and sexually biased.
Parents
While some parents are very aware of the impact of
sexualisation on their children many remain unable or
unsure of exactly how (or if) to take action against it.
How did such a rapid change
of beliefs materialise?
The internet
With 24-hour availability (no watershed and easy access),
almost 90% 8–17-year-olds have easy access to internet.
e internet is now the UK’s single biggest advertising
medium and the industry is predicted to hold 70% cent
of global adspend by the end of this year (Connelly,
2015). e internet is a source of learning and it has been
suggested that the media act as a kind of "super peer"
(Papadopoulos, 2010: 28):
‘replacing messages from parents or educators and
gaining credibility in the minds of young people by
assuming an authority of "coolness"’.
While the internet oers children and young people a way
to access information and get answers to questions they
may feel uncomfortable about asking parents, teachers or
supporting adults, it can also expose them to sexualised
imagery and messages that they are developmentally not
'For any child the pressure is huge, but what about those children who do not t this narrow lens of ’norm’, such as
people who are LGBTQ+, disabled or perhaps from a minority ethnic background?'
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ready to receive—which can result in detrimental eects
to their psyche.
Social media sites
Since 2016, an estimated 23% of 8–11-year-olds and 72%
of 12–15-year-olds now possess a social media prole
(Ofcom, 2016), with network sites such as Bebo, MySpace
or Facebook being the most popular. While such sites
allow children to create online identities, girls report
feeling under increasing pressure to display themselves
in more and more revealing and provocative ways, and
boys seek to display the bodies in hyper-masculine ways
(e.g. muscle display and powerful dominant stances)
(Ringrose, 2010).
Mobile phones
Around 91% of 12–15-year-olds now have a mobile
phone (Ofcom, 2016). While these devices (potentially)
allow parents closer monitoring of their whereabouts,
they also provide children easy access to all kinds of
online content, regardless of its appropriateness.
Sexting
Mobile phones are being used for so-called ‘sexting’—the
sending of, oen unsolicited, sexually explicit messages
or images. Young girls in particular report being under
increasing pressure to send highly sexualised images of
themselves in order to either acquire or keep a boyfriend.
Cyberbullying
Mobile phones are being used as a tool for bullying,
controlling and/or monitoring a dating-partner
(Papadopoulos, 2010) and, increasingly, cases of
teenage suicide as a direct result of cyberbullying are
being reported.
Links between sexualisation
and increasing violence
against women and girls
In 2007, the Department for Children, Schools and
Families (DCSF) set out a Children’s Plan, part of
which was aimed at reducing the risk to children from
potentially harmful media content. In 2009, the Home
Office launched the Together We Can End Violence
Against Women and Girls Campaign, which included a
Sexualisation of Young People Review (Papadopoulos,
2010), examining the influence of sexualised images and
messages on children and young people’s development,
cultural norms, as well as its potential links to violence
against women and girls. The outcomes of which found
broad agreement from researchers and experts in health
and welfare alike, that sexualising children prematurely
placed them at risk of a variety of harms (American
Psychological Association, 2004; Coy, 2009; Malamuth,
2001; Tankard-Reist, 2010 cited in, Papadopoulos,
2010: 14).
Conclusions
rough socialisation, gender prescribes how we should
‘be’ rather than recognise how we ‘are’. Such social
constructs are not so much ‘untrue’ as ‘incomplete’ in
relation to what a person is. As a result, the weight of
such gender expectation sties an individual’s acceptance
of his or her wider true self. Sexualisation oers for young
people limited gender expression, negates a person’s
unique individuality and is an indicator to increasing
violence toward women and young girls in society.
If we are to help young people withstand the onslaught
of sexualisation, then we must provide them with the
tools to build their internal resistance to it. rough
awareness training we can teach young people to become
‘internet savvy’ users instead of victims to such narrow-
lens constructs. Crucially, we must also oer young
people positive gender role-models to which they can
aspire—role models who celebrate diversity, individuality
and positive self-expression.
Recommendations
Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) still falls woefully
short of providing all young people with the knowledge,
skills and awareness they need for today’s world. Despite
the planned introduction of statutory RSE there are
still exemptions (e.g. academies and free schools are
Steps have been afoot to:
nIntroduce ‘age rating’ for music videos (Bailey,
2011; theme 4: 18). Following a 2014 pilot scheme
to introduce age ratings for online music the
Government and major UK music labels agreed
to make the pilot programme permanent in 2015
(Department for Digital, Culture, Media and
Sport, 2015)
nProhibit the employment of children as brand
ambassadors and in peer-to-peer marketing
(Bailey, 2011; theme 4: 20). Although their has been
industry pledge not to employ under-16s as brand
ambassadors, the Committee of Advertising Practice
(CAP) refused to introduce an outright ban on them
in 2012 and there appears to have been no further
progress since (Willson, 2012).
Helpful resources and websites for parents:
nTalking to your child about staying safe online. www.
nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-
safe/online-safety/talking-your-child-staying-safe-
online/
nThe UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS):
www.gov.uk/government/groups/uk-council-for-
child-internet-safety-ukccis
nBooks: Raising Girls, Raising Boys and The New
Manhood by Steve Biddulph. www.stevebiddulph
Further information
278 British Journal of School Nursing July/August 2017 Vol 12 No 6
Public Health
© 2017 MA Healthcare Ltd
not under local authority control therefore under no
obligation to follow the national curriculum) and LGBT-
inclusive RSE remains out of reach in most schools and
is still being lobbied for.
Education sector
nAll school sta should have training on gender equality
(including diversity and uidity). ose who teach
PHSE and citizenship should receive specialist training
and ongoing support to address these issues through
the curriculum)
nA whole-school approach to ‘media literacy’ should be
incorporated, with it being taught at all age levels within
English, Drama, the Arts and History, not merely as a
part of PSHE and Citizenship
nAwareness training and teaching on gender identity,
equality, as well as the sexualisation and objectication
of young people (especially females) should be delivered
nTeachers and pupils alike should receive ‘internet savvy’
awareness training
nSchools should ensure that all incidents of sexual
bullying are recorded and reported separately to other
forms of bullying.
Primary schools
nGender awareness training and teaching with specic
reference to the inuence of the media on body image
and personal identity, oering counteractive measures
against this. should be delivered
nDigital literacy (with age-appropriate material) should
be made a compulsory part of the national curriculum
for children from the age of 5 years
nModules on gender equality, sexualisation and sexist/
sexual bullying should be developed as part of a social
and emotional aspects of learning programme for
primary schools. BJSN
e second article in this series will focus on pornography
and its impact on children and young people.
Conict of interest: None declared
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... It is a familiar construct in Nigeria's cultural flow that remains unyielding, sustained by complex religious and traditional structures of identity and social permissiveness-a certain sense of entitlement to unfettered sexual access. Enson (2017) argues that the bombardment of sexualized imagery or acts on young women begins a process of internalization that is both gradual and insidious. Okolo echoes Staik's opinion that "the negative cultural understanding of masculinity wherein dominance is eroticized in such sexual relationships portrayed in Dibia's novel, has led many men and women to believe in and build their lives around men adopting unhealthy behaviours and ideals" (I. ...
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With the global #Metoo movement yet to arrive in Nigeria, Jude Dibia’s Unbridled reflects an emblematic moment for the underrepresented to occupy their stories and make their voices heard. The study analyzes patriarchy’s complicated relationship with the Nigerian girl child, significantly reviewing the inherent prejudices in patriarchy’s power hierarchies and how radical narratives explore taboo topics like incest and sexual violence. Contextualizing the concepts of hypersexualization and implicit bias to put in perspective how women, expected to be the gatekeepers of sex, are forced to navigate competing allegiances while remaining submissive and voiceless, the article probes the struggles of sexual victims and how hierarchies in a patriarchal society exacerbate their affliction through a culture of silence. Arguing that Dibia’s Unbridled confronts the narrative of silence in Nigerian fiction, the article explores ways the author empowers gender by challenging social values and traditional gender roles, underscoring gender dynamics and the problematic nature of prevalent bias against the feminine gender in Nigeria.
Article
Full-text available
In today's increasingly digital world, children and young people are being exposed at an increasingly younger age to inappropriate imagery and information. This article explores some of these risks, such as sexting and cyberbullying, with a particular focus on the impact of exposure to pornography in younger children. Preventative strategies and measures which school nurses and education professionals can implement are also offered.
Chapter
This article describes theory and research regarding the effects of pornography and on explaining gender differences in the consumption of such sexually explicit materials. The three major ideological/theoretical perspectives (Conservative/Moralist, Liberal and Radical Feminist) that have particularly influenced the scientific research in this area are described and related research summarized. An evolutionary-psychological theoretical perspective is also discussed and applied specifically to understanding gender differences in attraction to and consumption of pornography.
Letting Children be Children Report of an Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood
American Psychological Association (2004) Report of the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children. APA Bailey R (2011) Letting Children be Children Report of an Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/lettingchildren-be-children-report-of-an-independent-review-of-thecommercialisation-and-sexualisation-of-childhood (accessed 6 July 2017)
Internet will be biggest advertising medium in third of global ad market by 2017
  • T Connelly
Connelly T (2015) Internet will be biggest advertising medium in third of global ad market by 2017. The Drum. http://www.thedrum.com/news/2015/06/22/internet-will-be-biggest-advertisingmedium-third-global-ad-market-2017 (accessed 6 July 2017)
Milkshakes, lady lumps and growing up to want boobies: How the sexualisation of popular culture limits girls' horizons
  • M Coy
Coy M (2009) Milkshakes, lady lumps and growing up to want boobies: How the sexualisation of popular culture limits girls' horizons. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/car.1094/abstract (accessed 6 July 2017)
Action to protect children from viewing age-inappropriate music videos online
Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) The Childrens Plan: Building better Futures. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-childrens-plan (accessed 6 July 2017) Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (2015) Action to protect children from viewing age-inappropriate music videos online. www.gov.uk/government/news/action-to-protect-childrenfrom-viewing-age-inappropriate-music-videos-online (accessed 7 July 2017)
Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report
  • Ofcom
Ofcom (2016) Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0034/93976/ Children-Parents-Media-Use-Attitudes-Report-2016.pdf (accessed 6 July 2017)
Sexualisation of Young People Review
  • L Papadopoulos
Papadopoulos L (2010) Sexualisation of Young People Review. http:// webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20100408125926/http://www. homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/Sexualisation-of-young-people. html (accessed 6 July 2017)
Gender equality is your issue too
  • E Watson
Watson E (2014) Gender equality is your issue too. http://www. unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/9/emma-watson-genderequality-is-your-issue-too (accessed 6 July 2017)
CAP reviews children & peer to peer marketing
  • H Willson
Willson H (2012) CAP reviews children & peer to peer marketing. http://marketinglaw.osborneclarke.com/advertising-regulation/capreviews-children-peer-to-peer-marketing (accessed 7 July 2017)
Home Office: London McLellan (no date) Sexualised and Trivialized-Making Equality Impossible
Home Office (2009) Together We Can End Violence Against Women: A Consultation Paper. Home Office: London McLellan (no date) Sexualised and Trivialized-Making Equality Impossible. Cited in: Papadopoulos L (2010) Sexualisation of Young People Review. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov. uk/20100408125926/http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/ Sexualisation-of-young-people.html (accessed 6 July 2017)