Where Did the Hypersexualized Teen Come From?

Where Did the Hypersexualized Teen Come From?

By Caron C. Andrews and Amanda Grossman-Scott

This is Part 3 in this series. Click here to read part 1.

 As children grow into teenagers, how do the sexualized messages and images they see change, and what is the continued impact on kids? Here is a brief overview.

The sexualized toys and games teenagers played with when they were younger lead them easily into the video games, magazines, and music they discover as adolescents.

In this hypersexualized atmosphere, girls and boys who are eagerly seeking information on sexuality and what it means to be a man or a woman absorb what they see. What they see is very skewed, very sensationalized information about sex and sexuality. Girls are taught that their principal value is to be a sex object for males. Boys are sometimes taught that violence and sex go hand in hand, and that women don’t need to be valued for their humanity and individuality. Both are taught that sex is separate from individual personhood (Olfman, 2008).

Many people may hear this kind of information and think that these influences are only damaging to people who do nothing but play video games and surf the internet all day. But the reality is that it has become a rampant part of our everyday culture. You can hardly drive past a billboard on the side of the road or watch TV ads without seeing sexualized material. You can find thong underwear marketed to seven-year-olds, and an astonishing array of sexually suggestive phrases printed on girls’ shirts. Sex sells, and marketers have gone to the extreme to take advantage of that fact. In this new hypersexualized world, you are going to be exposed to images and poses that not so long ago could only be found in actual porn movies and pictures. It’s everywhere. It’s inescapable.

What effect does this have on teenagers? Research has shown that repeated exposure to the sexual messages and images across all areas of popular culture makes girls objectify themselves, leading to depression and anxiety, self-harming behaviors, and shame (Levin, D. E., & Kilbourne, J., 2008, p. 155-156). Girls are repeatedly shown that there’s one narrow definition of “pretty” for girls, which is to be thin, made up, have hairless bodies, and to always be polished and groomed. If a girl finds herself differing from the “ideal” image, which most girls and women do, she can develop disgust, and even hatred, for her own body.

The hypersexualized culture around us impacts boys negatively as well. It teaches them that masculinity is connected to violence and objectification of women, that real emotions are to be repressed, and that being masculine is to be uncommunicative and invulnerable. This goes against the natural desire many teenage boys actually have to be close and loving in caring, real relationships (Levin, D. E., & Kilbourne, J., 2008, p. 160-161).

“Hooking up,” having casual sex with a series of partners without love or affection, or even any emotion at all, has become more and more commonplace for teenagers. Having this kind of meaningless sex robs young people of the experience they need to learn how to form emotionally intimate, lasting relationships. It also puts them at physical risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections. It teaches kids to have instant gratification without thinking about the consequences.

These are only some of the most damaging effects on kids. When we take a step back, we can see clearly how deeply the media and popular culture have impacted our kids’ lives and mindset. Educating ourselves and our kids and becoming media literate, or “media savvy,” are the first steps in overcoming the effects our hypersexualized culture.

Curious to learn more? Check out our books, 30 Days of Sex Talks; How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography, which is also available in Spanish; and 30 Days to a Stronger Child.

Coming Soon in part 4: Guiding and Teens Through Our Hypersexualized Culture.

Need Help with Tough Topics? We got you covered!

Citations and Sources:

Levin, D. E., and Kilbourne, J. (2008). So sexy so soon: the new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids. New York: Ballantine Books.

Olfman, S. (2008, November). Growing Older Younger/Growing Younger Older. Thecenterfor counselingarts. Retrieved from http://www.thecenterforcounselingarts.com/sexualizationofchildhood.html


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