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Main article: Human sexuality

Sexualization (or sexualisation), is a process of endowing a person or a thing with sexual associations. The term is particularly used in the context of sexualization of young women through the media

Recent European Union legislation defines sexualization in the foollowing way:

whereas sexualization consists of an instrumental approach to a person by perceiving that person as an object for sexual use disregarding the person’s dignity and personality traits, with the person’s worth being measured in terms of the level of sexual attractiveness; sexualization also involves the imposition of the sexuality of adult persons on girls, who are emotionally, psychologically and physically unprepared for this at their particular stage of development; sexualization[note 1] not being the normal, healthy, biological development of the sexuality of a person, conditioned by the individual process of development and taking place at the appropriate time for each particular individual.[1]
Template:In5Reporter: Joanna Skrzydlewska, Member of the European Parliament

Reports on sexualization

Name of report Country Year Ref
Corporate paedophilia: sexualisation of children in Australia Australia 2006 [2]
Sexualised goods aimed at children: Report for the Scottish Parliament Equal Opportunities Committee. Scotland, UK 2009 [3]
Report of the American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls USA 2010 [4]
Sexualisation of young people : review (Home Office) UK 2010 [5]
Letting children be children : report of an independent review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood ('The Bailey Review') UK 2011 [6]

General comments about the reports on sexualization

In 2006, an Australian report called Corporate paedophilia : sexualisation of children in Australia[2] was published. The Australian report summarises its conclusion as follows:

Images of sexualised children are becoming increasingly common in advertising and marketing material. Children who appear aged 12 years and under, particularly girls are dressed, posed and made up in the same way as sexy adult models. "Corporate paedophilia" is a metaphor used to describe advertising and marketing that sexualises children in these ways.

In 2007, the American Psychological Association published a report titled Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, discussed below.

In 2012, an American study found that self-sexualization was common among 6–9-year old girls. Girls overwhelmingly chose the sexualized doll over the non-sexualized doll for their ideal self and as popular. However other factors, such as how often mothers talked to their children about what is going on in TV shows and maternal religiosity, reduced those odds. Surprisingly, the mere quantity of girls’ media consumption (TV and movies) was unrelated to their self-sexualization for the most part; rather, maternal self-objectification and maternal religiosity moderated its effects.[7]

However, in 2010 the Scottish Executive released a report titled External research on sexualised goods aimed at children.[3] The report considers the drawbacks of the United States and Australian reviews, concluding:

[T]here is no indication [in the APA report] that the media might contain any positive images about human relationships, or that children might critically evaluate what they see.

The Scottish review also notes that:

[s]uch accounts often present the sexualisation of children as a relatively recent development, but it is by no means a new issue … While the public visibility of the issue, and the terms in which it is defined, may have changed, sexualised representations of children cannot be seen merely as a consequence of contemporary consumerism.

It also notes that previous coverage “rests on moral assumptions … that are not adequately explained or justified."

Cultural studies work on sexualization

Sexualization has also been a subject of debate for academics who work in media and cultural studies. Here, the term has not been used to simply to label what is seen as a social problem, but to indicate the much broader and varied set of ways in which sex has become more visible in media and culture. These include; the widespread discussion of sexual values, practices and identities in the media; the growth of sexual media of all kinds; for example, erotica, slash fiction, sexual self-help books and the many genres of pornography; the emergence of new forms of sexual experience, for example instant message or avatar sex made possible by developments in technology; a public concern with the breakdown of consensus about regulations for defining and dealing with obscenity; the prevalence of scandals, controversies and panics around sex in the media.[8]

The terms 'pornification' and ‘pornographication’ have also been used to describe the way that aesthetics that were previously associated with pornography have become part of popular culture, and that mainstream media texts and other cultural practices ‘citing pornographic styles, gestures and aesthetics’ have become more prominent.[9] This process, which Brian McNair has described as a 'pornographication of the mainstream' [10] has developed alongside an expansion of the cultural realm of pornography or 'pornosphere' which itself has become more accessible to a much wider variety of audiences. According to McNair, both developments can be set in the context of a wider shift towards a 'striptease culture' which has disrupted the boundaries between public and private discourse in late modern Western culture, and which is evident more generally in cultural trends which privilege lifestyle, reality, interactivity, self-revelation and public intimacy.[10]

American Psychological Association view


The American Psychological Association (APA) in its 2007 Report looked at the cognitive and emotional consequences of sexualization and the consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image.[4] The report considers that a person is sexualized in the following situations:

  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or sexual behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) 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.[4]


Some cultural critics have postulated that over recent decades children have evidenced a level of sexual knowledge or sexual behaviour inappropriate for their age group.[11]

The causes of this premature sexualization that have been cited include portrayals in the media of sex and related issues, especially in media aimed at children; the marketing of products with sexual connotations to children, including clothing;[12] the lack of parental oversight and discipline; access to adult culture via the internet; and the lack of comprehensive school sex education programs.[13]

For girls and young women in particular, the APA reports that studies have found that sexualization has a negative impact on their “self-image and healthy development”.[4]

Cognitive and emotional consequences

Studies have found that thinking about the body and comparing it to sexualized cultural ideals may disrupt a girl's mental concentration, and a girl's sexualization or objectification may undermine her confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.[4]

Mental and physical health

Research has linked sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood.[4]

Sexual development

Research suggests that the sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.[4]


The Australian writers, Catharine Lumby and Kath Albury (2010)[14] have suggested that sexualization is 'a debate that has been simmering for almost a decade' and concerns about sex and the media are far from new. Much of the recent writing on sexualization has been the subject of criticism that because of the way that it draws on ‘one-sided, selective, overly simplifying, generalizing, and negatively toned’ evidence[15] and is 'saturated in the languages of concern and regulation'.[16] In these writings and the widespread press coverage that they have attracted, the term is often used as ‘a non-sequitur causing everything from girls flirting with older men to child sex trafficking’.[17] They often ignore feminist work on media, gender and the body and present a very conservative and negative view of sex in which only monogamous heterosexual sexuality is regarded as normal.[18] They tend to neglect any historical understanding of the way sex has been represented and regulated, and they often ignore both theoretical and empirical work on the relationship between sex and media, culture and technology.[3][17]

See also


  1. As opposed to its meaning in relation to human sexuality.


  1. Draft report on the sexualization of girls (2012/2047(INI)). Reporter: Skrzydlewska, J.K., Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality. PR\904064EN.doc Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rush, E., and La Nauze, A., (2006), Corporate Paedophilia: the sexualisation of children in Australia, Discussion Paper Number 90, The Australian Institute,ISSN: 1322-5421. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Buckingham, D., Bragg, S., Russell, R. and Willett, R. 2009. Sexualised goods aimed at children. Report for the Scottish Parliament Equal Opportunities Committee. The Scottish Parliament. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls (2010), Washington, DC, American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved 1 March 2013. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "APA" defined multiple times with different content
  5. Papadopoulos, L. (2010). Sexualisation of young people : review, Great Britain: UK Home Office.
  6. Bailey, Reg (2011). Letting children be children: report of an independent review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, London: The Stationery Office.
  7. Starr, Christine, Ferguson, Gail (October 2012). Sexy Dolls, Sexy Grade-Schoolers? Media & Maternal Influences on Young Girls’ Self-Sexualization. Sex Roles 67 (7–8): 463–476.
  8. Attwood, Feona (2006). ‘Sexed Up: Theorizing the Sexualization of Culture.’ ‘’Sexualities’’ 9(1), pp. 77–94. and Attwood, Feona (ed.) (2009) Mainstreaming Sex: The Sexualization of Western Culture. London & New York: I.B.Tauris.
  9. Paasonen, Susanna et al. (eds.) (2007) Pornification: Sex and Sexuality in Media Culture. Oxford: Berg.
  10. 10.0 10.1 McNair, Brian (2002) Striptease Culture: Sex, Media and the Democratization of Desire. London & New York: Routledge.
  11. Kaeser, Fred The effects of increasing sexualization on children. Towards a Better Understanding of Children's Sexual Behavior. NYU Child Study Center. URL accessed on 22 February 2007. (Fred Kaeser Ed.D. is the Director of Health Services for Community School District Two, NYC)
  12. [Suzanna] Outrage as Argos sells G-strings for children. the Daily Mail. URL accessed on 22 February 2007.
  13. APA, 2007; Lamb, 2006
  14. Albury, K. and Lumby, C. 2010. Too much? Too young? The sexualisation of children debate in Australia. Media International Australia 135, 141–152. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  15. (2009). The Risks and Rights of Sexualization: An Appreciative Commentary on Lerum and Dworkin's "Bad Girls Rule". Journal of Sex Research 46 (4): 268–270. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  16. (2010). Pornographication: A discourse for all seasons. International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics 6 (1): 103–108. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  17. 17.0 17.1 (2008). Endangered Girls and Incendiary Objects: Unpacking the Discourse on Sexualization. Sexuality & Culture 12 (4): 312–312. Retrieved 1 March 2013. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "EganHawkes2008" defined multiple times with different content
  18. (2009). "Bad Girls Rule": An Interdisciplinary Feminist Commentary on the Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Journal of Sex Research 46 (4): 250–263. Retrieved 1 March 2013.

Further reading


  • Attwood, F. (2009). Mainstreaming sex the sexualization of Western culture, London: I.B. Tauris.
  • (2004) Young people, sex and the media: the facts of life, Houndmills England New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Carey, T. (2011). Where has my little girl gone? How to protect your daughter from growing up too soon, London: Lion. A guide for parents on girls' body image and other issues.
  • Durham, M. (2008). The Lolita effect : the media sexualization of young girls and what we can do about it, Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press. Looks at media messges and suggests that it promotes early maturation and sexualisation of pre-adolescent girls.
  • (1993) Sexualized children : assessment and treatment of sexualized children and children who molest, Rockville, MD: Launch Press.
  • Lamb, S. (2006). Sex, therapy, and kids : addressing their concerns through talk and play, New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
  • Levy, Ariel (2006). Female chauvinist pigs: women and the rise of raunch culture, New York: Free Press. A review of what Levy regards as a highly sexualized American culture in which women are objectified, objectify one another, and are encouraged to objectify themselves.
  • Liebau, Carol P. (2007). Prude: how the sex-obsessed culture damages girls (and America too!), New York: Center Street. Looks at sex in contemporary culture and the impact it has on young girls.
  • McNair, B. (2002). Striptease culture sex, media and the democratization of desire, London New York: Routledge.
  • Oppliger, Patrice (2008). Girls gone skank: the sexualization of girls in American culture, Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company Inc., Publishers. Discusses issues women face in American society and how those issues reflect on young girls and teens.
  • (2007) Pornification: sex and sexuality in media culture, Oxford New York: Berg.
  • Paul, P. (2005). Pornified: how pornography is transforming our lives, our relationships, and our families, New York: Times Books. Pamela Paul discusses the impact of ready access to pornography on Americans.
  • (2008) The porning of America: the rise of porn culture, what it means, and where we go from here, Boston, Mass: Beacon Press. Argues that pornography has become a mainstream part of American culture.



  • Template:Cite report
  • Template:Cite report ISSN 1322-5421 Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  • Template:Cite report Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  • Papadopoulos, L. (2010). Sexualisation of young people : review, Great Britain: UK Home Office.
  • Bailey, Reg (2011). Letting children be children: report of an independent review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, London: The Stationery Office.


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