We are surrounded by sexually explicit content—in movies, magazines, music, television, clothing and other consumer goods—on a daily basis. As boundaries are pushed, social standards lower and hypersexual content becomes the new normal in mainstream media. Here we will explore the normalized epidemic of hypersexuality that has silently permeated society in recent generations.
Unhealthy and unrealistic notions of sexuality and gender have gradually become accepted and normalized by society. How have we become so desensitized to hypersexual messages that we accept them as a normal part of our lives? How can we protect future generations from this desensitization to hypersexual content before it’s too late?
It is my hope that I can disseminate awareness, education, and empowerment to parents so they can prevent, intervene, and react accordingly to protect their children from these pervasive messages.
Is hypersexuality the new normal? Or is it merely a symptom of something even more malignant?
A symptom is an outward indication of an internal change or condition. Could today’s hypersexual conditions be an indicator of something far worse happening silently and invisibly around us?
With a focus on children, the American Psychological Association asserts that inappropriate imposition of sexuality is an indication of sexualization. When children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them, not chosen. The American Psychological Association expresses the following as indications of sexualization:
- a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
- a person is held to a standard that equates (narrowly defined) physical attractiveness with being sexy;
- a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
- sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.
As a clinician working with child victims of sexual abuse, I have firsthand experience with society’s desensitization to sexualized content. I have worked with parents and adolescents who express little to no concern for the hypersexuality permeating our culture. This desensitization has left both parents and adolescents unable to identify sexual abuse when it occurs.
My frustrations have grown over the years as parents continue normalizing and questioning the validity of acts of sexual abuse. This normalization and questioning leads to child victims questioning whether any wrong was done to them. I have learned to channel my frustrations with parents into opportunities to educate. Parents and guardians who are aware of our desensitized, hypersexualized culture will have the knowledge to identify sexual abuse when it occurs and protect their children from it.
Peeling back the layers of desensitization, we can see that it has wrapped its tentacles around the minutiae of our daily lives. Something as trivial as posting an image on social media illustrates the extent to which we have become desensitized.
An 11-year-old girl recently posted an image on Facebook in which she is lying on her bed, dressed in immodest clothing, sucking on a lollipop. Her image was captioned, “BORED- and this lollipop isn’t helping, who wants to hang out tonight.” Neither the parent nor the 11-year-old girl found the image problematic. In fact, the young girl was excited by it and boasted 108 “Likes” on the social media post. There are many inappropriate and problematic elements in this scenario, yet neither the parent nor the child could recognize any impropriety in the social media post.
This example is far from singular; it is, in fact, indicative of desensitization’s harsh reality: adults are just as unaware of desensitization as children.
From my firsthand experiences working with victims of sexual abuse and their parents, I know that awareness and education are the only tools we have to protect children from a hypersexualized culture.
Protecting children from abuse has become my life’s work, and protecting children from sexual abuse starts by confronting the unchecked hypersexualization in today’s culture. I will investigate—across a series of articles, podcasts and image analyses—the latent and explicit beliefs and mechanisms enabling hypersexuality to permeate our culture. We can arm ourselves with awareness and knowledge with these lines of inquiries:
- Why are we staying silent while facing an epidemic of hypersexuality?
- How does society normalize sexual violence?
- What messages does the normalization of sexual abuse send to victims?
- Is the normalization of hypersexuality contributing to the rise in child sexual abuse?
- What happens when we sexualize children?
- Does media shape a child’s view of sex?
- What implications are there for interventions and sexual violence prevention?
- Is the threshold for an act to be considered sexual abuse changing?
- Who is responsible for educating children?
- How do we educate those adults responsible to recognize, intervene, and prevent child sexual abuse, as well as pass those messages on to children?
By gaining a deeper understanding of where our apathy towards sexualized content comes from and combating the silence around it, we can help protect children from sexual content and protect them from abuse.