Sexy girls: Too much too soon?

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Publication Date: 
Wed, 2013-03-06

As adult women, some of us struggle to find the balance between “attractive” and “sexy”; and part of that struggle includes busting the myth about any relationship between the way a woman is dressed and her being sexually sexual assaulted. In Toronto, following a police officer’s remark that "women should avoid dressing like sluts” in order not to be victimized, the Slutwalk movement was founded. We reject slut shaming for ourselves; we need to avoid doing it to our daughters.

At a workshop I conducted with parents, a mother shared her response to her daughter’s question about why she couldn’t go to school dressed like her favourite singer: “She’s an entertainer. She’s supposed to dress like that.”

It is not easy facing down an entire industry while your daughter kicks up a fuss in the clothing department, but maybe more frank talk with young girls about the sexualization of consumer culture will help to decrease the demand for sexy clothes and toys.

When I suggested to sex columnist Sasha that protests to reduce the number of sexy products for girls might put us into bed with the social conservatives, she was surprised. “Instead of railing against this,” she said, “we need to take more responsibility around how we frame sex in our lives as non-consumers. Don't spend, spend time.” 

What better way to ensure our daughters take the path toward healthy sexuality?

Where do we go from here?

Whether we are looking at an old phenomenon with shocking new twists, or one that puts the brakes on the march towards women’s equality, in terms in of the health risks of early sexualization, we may not yet be able to draw definitive conclusions about cause and effect. However, it is time to apply the precautionary principle: We need to create a healthier societal view of sexuality.

We cannot leave girls’ sex education in the hands of media and advertizing. Comprehensive sexual health education, although desired by the overwhelming majority of parents in Canada, is far from a reality. The guidelines for sex education are clear. What remains is to ensure national implementation of curricula based on these criteria. And yet, as Fraser points out, due to the cuts in Quebec’s sexual health programming, sexual health education has practically disappeared. Ontario’s revised curriculum was put on hold for years because of conservative backlash, leaving teachers in 2013 with a curriculum from 1998. This situation is echoed throughout the country.

If we truly want girls to grow up to have full sexual lives according to the WHO definition parents and teachers need to work together. They need to ensure that girls have familiarity with, and appreciation of, their sexuality. (Read more). Girls have the right to explore their bodies and the pleasure it affords. They need to understand that women come in all body sizes; and that beauty is not just a media construct. They need to learn to say yes to what they want and no to what they don’t. They need to become comfortable with their gender, their sexual orientation and their appearance. They need to understand that not all girls grow up heterosexual, nor do we exist only to attract and satisfy men; and that not all girls grow up to become mothers.

To these ends, society needs:

  • frank  parenting around sexual issues
  • support for the above
  • better training for teachers—not just for those teaching sexuality education
  • media literacy for young children, including the seduction of marketing
  • comprehensive violence prevention programs
  • a shift in advertizing to reward companies that use clever rather than the exploitative marketing

The bottom line drives our consumerist culture. Women have historically challenged the sexual objectification that makes money off our backs—and off the rest of our bodies. We can redirect the current incarnation of this push towards adult sexuality for profit by deliberately creating a sexually healthier society.

Perhaps girls can learn to appreciate contemporary versions of Marilyn Monroe’s sexual playfulness in a healthy and empowering way. Without buying a thong.

Lyba Spring recently retired from Toronto Public Health and now runs Lyba Spring Sexual Health Education and Consulting Services in Toronto.

For more:

Hypersexualization of young girls: Why should we care?
Sexy sells: The marketing of girls' sexuality

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