email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAlways Forever MaybeAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond SpeechBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys & SexBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren and the Politics of SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDesire, Love, and IdentityDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting OffGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot My ShameNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePhilosophy of Love, Sex, and Marriage: An IntroductionPhilosophy of Sex and LovePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRelax, It's Just SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in AntiquitySex in CrisisSex in the World of MythSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, Family, and the Culture WarsSex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureTestosterone RexThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Dangerous Art of Blending InThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Evolution of BeautyThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Incurable RomanticThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe PervertThe Phenomenology of Sex, Love, and IntimacyThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe State of AffairsThe Story of SexThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThings We Didn't Talk About When I Was a GirlThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransTransTransgender Children and YouthUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebUntrue VirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Does Consent Really Mean?What Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshYou Know Me WellZen Sex
There are two main claims in Getting Real. First, western culture is increasingly sexualizing young girls -- on TV, in billboards, in magazines, and in toys and games. Second, this is having bad effects on the lives of girls -- their mental wellness, their risky behavior, and their relationships with others. The 14 chapters address these issues using anecdote, analysis and social science. The publisher is Australian and most of the book addresses the situation in Australia, but the ideas are applicable at least to most English-speaking countries in the West, and much of the research the book refers to comes from the USA and the UK; especially important is the Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls.
The evidence for the changes in society that the authors site comes from a variety of sources: newspapers, magazines and TV shows have long focused on the ways in which children are growing up faster these days, and many of the authors site them. They refer to girls getting cosmetic surgery, shaving their pubic hair, dressing in sexually provocative clothes, getting involved in sexual relationships, portraying themselves as sexually sophisticated in their interactions with others on the Internet and on their social media profile pages, and using pornography as a guide to what is sexually expected. There have been corresponding rises in mental health problems for girls, with disorders such as eating disorders, self-injury, low self-esteem, depression, and body-image disorders. There is also indication that sexual abuse of girls is on the rise.
A critical reader will have three main questions in mind when reading this collection:
· Is our culture really sexualizing children and teens more than it did in the past?
· Are the mental disorders of children and teens really on the rise?
· If the answers to these two questions are affirmative, then have the cultural changes caused the rise in mental health and abuse problems, or is there some other explanation for the correlation?
There are secondary questions that are also important in thinking about these issues:
· What level of proof do we require for these claims before we judge it necessary to take action?
· What sorts of personal and political actions will be most effective in dealing with the problems arising from the sexualization of girls?
The collection of essays in Getting Real will help readers address these questions. The best papers survey the current literature and give a fair assessment of the state of knowledge. Emma Rush explains that there is no conclusive evidence for the harms resulting in the premature sexualization of children. Yet she argues that there is some evidence available, and she cites studies showing increased body dissatisfaction, development of eating disorders at younger ages, increased self-objectification, and other health problems. She refers frequently to the Australian government report "Sexualisation of children in the contemporary media" and she endorses the words of Elizabeth Handsley in the report that more regulation needs to be done as a precautionary measure, without waiting for more proof of harm. The argument is that it is too dangerous to wait because children may suffer immeasurable harm before the proof of the cause is available.
Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, contributes one of the other more interesting papers to the collection, where he traces the growing sexual freedom of society since the 1960s, and links it to free market libertarianism. He expresses alarm at the growth of sex without love, and is very suspicious of the so-called freedom we have in a western consumerist society. He holds that the aim of consumerism is to make us a slave to our passions. He argues we should aim for more genuine self-determination. He wants "freedom from the tyranny of expectations imposed on baby boomers' children by the commercial co-option of the aspirations of the sexual revolution." (93). So teenagers should resist the idea sold by the media that 'bad girls' are powerful. He praises self-restraint as a way of resisting the commercial pressures put on teens and achieving true freedom.
Other contributions tend to be a bit more personal, with authors describing their own work against the sexualization of girls or their reaction to it. Selena Ewing discusses her creation of the book "Faking It", which discusses the problematic ideas in magazines aimed at young women. Julie Gale, founder of Kids Free 2B Kids, writes about her work against sexual billboards and "barely legal" pornography in Australia. Parenting author Steve Biddulph sets out his personal views about the problems of a sexualized culture for parents. Feminist Betty McLellan discusses the importance of the sexualization of girls from her political point of view, emphasizing how it makes equality impossible.
Renate Klein presents a puzzling argument about the medicalization of sexualized girls. She starts off with a fictional story, of 14-year-old Emma who gets Gardasil injections to prevent cervical cancer from sex. This leads to a rash, unprotected sex, pregnancy, abortion, and depression, for which she gets medication. Klein's main preoccupation seems to be that medication is problematic and dangerous. This is of course a minority view, and the paper is not very convincing -- it reads more like a cautionary tale.
Another weak paper is by Abigail Bray. She discusses the controversy over the Australian photographer Bill Henson's photographs of nude young girls. [Henson's book Lux et Nox is reviewed here.] Henson was charged with child pornography, but then the art establishment rose to defend him and charges were dropped. Bray says that Henson's work reminds her of the "shocking impact of sexual objectification on a child's body" but she provides no argument for her reaction at all. She calls for the unmasking of the innocence of artists like Henson, without ever make a case for their guilt. It would have been an worthwhile paper if Bray had given a careful argument for her condemnation of Henson's work, but she didn't.
Getting Real as a whole does make a strong case that we need to be concerned about the sexualization of children. It does provide evidence that harm results from the more sexualized culture we now have. It is a valuable resource for those wanting to examine the issue more thoroughly: most of the chapters have lists of works cited, and there is a good range of information included in the book. The writing styles of all authors are accessible, not too laden with jargon.
This is an issue that does need more investigation. It is surprising that the feminist authors are not more concerned that their cause is so close to that of far more conservative activists. In the USA, conservatives have advocated censorship of sexually explicit material, and federal promotion of abstinence-only sex education. There are similar conservative political forces in Australia. The debates over pornography in the 1970s and 1980s led to an uncomfortable alliance between conservatives and feminists at that time, yet the battle was largely lost, and it is hard to see how it benefitted the feminist movement. If we are concerned about the pressures on children and teens to be sexual, we also need to be concerned about preserving the information and choices that are available to young people. Censorship and regulation of information are certainly not enough to promote the well-being of children, and so progressive approaches need to do more to address how we should be promoting the well-being of children.
© 2011 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York