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Sexualization (or sexualisation) is to make something sexual in character or quality, or to become aware of sexuality,[1][2] especially in relation to men and women. Sexualization is linked to sexual objectification.

Reports have found that sexualization of younger children are becoming increasingly common in advertisements. Research has linked sexualization of girls and women with eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.

Reports on sexualization[edit]

Name of report Country Year Reference
Corporate paedophilia: sexualisation of children in Australia Australia 2006 [3]
Sexualised goods aimed at children: Report for the Scottish Parliament Equal Opportunities Committee. Scotland, UK 2009 [4]
Report of the American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls USA 2010 [5]
Sexualisation of young people : review (Home Office) UK 2010 [6]
Letting children be children : report of an independent review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood ('The Bailey Review') UK 2011 [7]

General comments about the reports on sexualization[edit]

In 2006, an Australian report called Corporate paedophilia : sexualisation of children in Australia[3] 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 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.[8]

However, in 2010 the Scottish Executive released a report titled External research on sexualised goods aimed at children.[4] 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."[9]

Letting Children be Children: Report of an Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood (UK) The report 'Letting Children Be Children',[10] also known as the Bailey Report, is a report commissioned by the UK government on the subject of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. The report was published in June 2011 and was commissioned as a result of concerns raised as to whether children's lives are negatively affected by the effects of commercialisation and sexualisation [11]

The Bailey Report is so-called as it was researched and compiled by Reg Bailey, the Chief Executive of the Mothers' Union,[12] a "charity supporting parents and children in 83 countries in the world".[10] The report asked for contributions from parents; children; organisations; businesses and the general public in order to consider their views and inform their recommendations and identified four themes that were of particular concern to parents and the wider public. These themes were:

  • 1) the 'wallpaper' of children's lives
  • 2) clothing, products and services for children
  • 3) children as consumers
  • 4) making parents' voices heard

The report returned recommendations based on the research from interested parties, on each of the key themes, in the form of 'what we would like to see'. On the theme of 'the wallpaper of children's lives' it said that it would like to see that sexualised images used in public places should be more in line with what parents find acceptable, to ensure that images in public spaces becomes more child friendly. On theme two 'clothing, products and services for children' the Bailey report said that it would like to see retailers no longer selling or marketing inappropriate clothing, products or services for children. What they would like to see on theme three 'children as consumers' is comprehensive regulation protecting children from excessive commercial pressures across all media in-line with parental expectations; that marketers are ethical and do not attempt to exploit gaps in the market to influence children into becoming consumers and to ensure that parents and children have an awareness of marketing techniques and regulations. Finally in terms of 'making parents voices heard' it would like to see parents finding it easier to voice their concerns to, and be listened to by, businesses and regulators.[13]

There is a motion for a European Parliament resolution going through which gives the following definition of sexualization:

[S]exualization 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.[14]
                                                  Reporter: Joanna Skrzydlewska, Member of the European Parliament

Cultural studies[edit]

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.[15]

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.[16] This process, which Brian McNair has described as a 'pornographication of the mainstream' [17] 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.[17]

American Psychological Association view[edit]


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.[5] 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.[5]


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.[18]

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;[19] the lack of parental oversight and discipline; access to adult culture via the internet; and the lack of comprehensive school sex education programs.[5][20]

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".[5]

The APA cites the following as advertising techniques that contribute to the sexualization of girls:[5]

  • Including girls in ads with sexualized women wearing matching clothing or posed seductively.
  • Dressing girls up to look like adult women.
  • Dressing women down to look like young girls.
  • The employment of youthful celebrity adolescents in highly sexual ways to promote or endorse products.

Cognitive and emotional consequences[edit]

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.[5]

Mental and physical health[edit]

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.[5]

Sexual development[edit]

Research suggests that the sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls' ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.[5]

Sexualization in products for children[edit]

Some commercial products seen as promoting the sexualization of children have drawn considerable media attention:

  • Bratz Baby dolls that wear thongs.
  • Girls aged 10 and 11 wearing thongs in primary school.[21]
  • Padded bras on bikinis aimed at seven-year-old girls.[22] Some people regard training bras similarly. However there is also evidence that with the mean age of puberty declining in Western cultures, functional brassieres are required by a higher percentage of preteen girls than before.[23]

The Scottish Executive report[4] surveyed 32 High street UK retailers and found that many of the larger chains, including Tesco, Debenhams, JJ Sports, and Marks & Spencer did not offer sexualized goods aimed at children. The report noted that overall prevalence was limited but this was based on a very narrow research brief. Whilst this shows that not all High street retailers were aiming products deemed sexualized by the researchers, the research cannot be taken out of context and used to say that there is not an issue of sexualization.


The Australian writers, Catharine Lumby and Kath Albury (2010)[24] 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[25] and is "saturated in the languages of concern and regulation".[26] In these writings and the widespread press coverage that they have attracted, critics state that the term is often used as "a non-sequitur causing everything from girls flirting with older men to child sex trafficking"[27] They believe that the arguments 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.[28] They say that the arguments 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.[4][27]

See also[edit]


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


  1. ^ "Sexualization". Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved September 30, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Sexualize". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved September 30, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Rush, Emma; La Nauze, Andrea (2006). Corporate paedophilia: the sexualisation of children in Australia (discussion paper number 90). Canberra: The Australian Institute. ISSN 1322-5421. OCLC 156752334.  Pdf version.
  4. ^ a b c d 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.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls (2010), Washington, DC, American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  6. ^ Papadopoulos, L. (2010). Sexualisation of young people : review. Great Britain: UK Home Office. ISBN 9781849871860. 
  7. ^ Bailey, Reg (2011). Letting children be children: report of an independent review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. London: The Stationery Office. ISBN 9780101807821. 
  8. ^ 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. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0183-x. 
  9. ^ Mayo, E. and Nairn, A., 2009. Consumer Kids: How Big Business Is Grooming Our Children for
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ NSPCC, 2011. Premature sexualisation: understanding the risks. Outcomes of the NSPCC’s expert seminar series
  12. ^
  13. ^ Bailey, Reg (2011). Letting children be children: report of an independent review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. London: The Stationery Office. ISBN 9780101807821.
  14. ^ Skrzydlewska, Joanna. "Draft report on the sexualization of girls (2012/2047 (INI))". European Parliament Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality. PR\904064EN.doc. Retrieved 1 March 2013. 
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Paasonen, Susanna; Nikunen, Kaarina; Saarenmaa, Laura (2007). Pornification: sex and sexuality in media culture. Oxford New York: Berg. ISBN 9781845207045. 
  17. ^ a b McNair, Brian (2002) Striptease Culture: Sex, Media and the Democratization of Desire. London & New York: Routledge.
  18. ^ Kaeser, Fred (30 October 2001). "The effects of increasing sexualization on children". Towards a Better Understanding of Children's Sexual Behavior. NYU Child Study Center. Retrieved 22 February 2007. "We know that exposure to sexualized messages, particularly those that are incomprehensible, can have several effects on children."  (Fred Kaeser Ed.D. is the Director of Health Services for Community School District Two, NYC)
  19. ^ Chambers, Suzanna (14 April 2002). "Outrage as Argos sells G-strings for children". the Daily Mail. Retrieved 22 February 2007. "High Street chain Argos has been branded irresponsible for promoting a range of sexually provocative lingerie designed for primary schoolgirls." 
  20. ^ Lamb, Sharon (2006). Sex, therapy, and kids: addressing their concerns through talk and play. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 9780393704792. 
  21. ^ "Pupils warned not to wear thongs". BBC News. 28 May 2003. Retrieved 22 February 2007. "Parents have been urged by a head teacher to stop their daughters wearing thongs to a primary school." 
  22. ^ The Age, 16 April 2010: Outrage at girls' padded bikinis
  23. ^ Aksglaede L, Sorensen K, Petersen JH, Skakkebaek NE & Juul A. (2009) Recent decline in age at breast development: the Copenhagen Puberty Study. Pediatrics 123, e932–e939.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Vanwesenbeeck, Ine (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. doi:10.1080/00224490903082694. ISSN 0022-4499.  Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  26. ^ Smith, Clarissa (2010). "Pornographication: A discourse for all seasons". International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics 6 (1): 103–108. doi:10.1386/macp.6.1.103/3. ISSN 1740-8296.  Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  27. ^ a b Egan, R. Danielle; Hawkes, Gail L. (2008). "Endangered Girls and Incendiary Objects: Unpacking the Discourse on Sexualization". Sexuality & Culture 12 (4): 312–312. doi:10.1007/s12119-008-9040-z. ISSN 1095-5143.  Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  28. ^ Lerum, Kari; Dworkin, Shari L. (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. doi:10.1080/00224490903079542. ISSN 0022-4499.  Retrieved 1 March 2013.

Further reading[edit]


  • Attwood, Feona (2009). Mainstreaming sex the sexualization of Western culture. London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 1845118278. 
  • Buckingham, David; Bragg, Sara (2004). Young people, sex and the media: the facts of life. Houndmills England New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781403918222. 
  • Carey, Tanith (2011). Where has my little girl gone? How to protect your daughter from growing up too soon. London: Lion. ISBN 9780745955421.  A guide for parents on girls' body image and other issues.
  • Durham, Meenakshi G. (2008). The Lolita effect: the media sexualization of young girls and what we can do about it. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press. ISBN 9781590200636.  Looks at media messges and suggests that it promotes early maturation and sexualisation of pre-adolescent girls.
  • Egan, R. Danielle (2013). Becoming sexual: a critical appraisal of the sexualization of girls. Cambridge Malden, MA: Polity Press. ISBN 9780745650739. 
  • Egan, R. Danielle; Hawkes, Gail (2010). Theorizing the sexual child in modernity. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781403972576. 
  • Gil, Eliana; Johnson, Toni Cavanagh (1993). Sexualized children: assessment and treatment of sexualized children and children who molest. Rockville, Maryland: Launch Press. ISBN 9781877872075. 
  • Lamb, Sharon (2006). Sex, therapy, and kids: addressing their concerns through talk and play. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 9780393704792. 
  • Levy, Ariel (2006). Female chauvinist pigs: women and the rise of raunch culture. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0743284283.  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. ISBN 9781599956831.  Looks at sex in contemporary culture and the impact it has on young girls.
  • McNair, Brian (2002). Striptease culture sex, media and the democratization of desire. London New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415237345. 
  • Oppliger, Patrice (2008). Girls gone skank: the sexualization of girls in American culture. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company Inc., Publishers. ISBN 9780786435227.  Discusses issues women face in American society and how those issues reflect on young girls and teens.
  • Paasonen, Susanna; Nikunen, Kaarina; Saarenmaa, Laura (2007). Pornification: sex and sexuality in media culture. Oxford New York: Berg. ISBN 9781845207045. 
  • Paul, Pamela (2005). Pornified: how pornography is transforming our lives, our relationships, and our families. New York: Times Books. ISBN 9780805081329.  Pamela Paul discusses the impact of ready access to pornography on Americans.
  • Sarracino, Carmine; Scott, Kevin M. (2008). The porning of America: the rise of porn culture, what it means, and where we go from here. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press. ISBN 9780807061541.  Argues that pornography has become a mainstream part of American culture.