A hyper-sexualised media is bad news for women. (Looks like Christians were right after all)

Miley Cyrus has caught
Ken Gilmore's attention
 
By Ken Gilmore and Miley Cyrus

Editor's Note: Ken has kindly agreed to allow us republish articles from his blog again, for which I thank him. But what's even better news is that he is now going to  write articles that we can publish on subjects of a broader apologetic focus . This will give us the opportunity to discuss the issues that he raises and to determine if we agree with his arguments.
 
It is important that our young readers be given access to quality Christadelphian material as well as to our criticism of the religion. They need to see both sides of the argument to allow them to come to an informed decision on these issues. They are not going to get well reasoned argument from the usual Fideist Christadelphian sources; so I am going to bring the best Christadelphian material here instead. Then they can make up their own minds.
 
Young readers must understand that I personally don't greatly mind WHAT they believe. They can be Theists for all I care. What I am concerned about is HOW they think about these things. I'm trying to encourage rational, critical thinking. That's what you get with Ken Gilmore. It's extremely rare in Christadelphian Land.
 
The content of his work is Theist, so it must not be assumed that I agree with everything he says. In fact I disagree with some of what Ken Gilmore writes. But he is the best Christadelphian writer alive today; so it is a privilege to have his work on this website and we need to think carefully about what he is saying. 
 
 
This video is NOT part of Ken's article
- But it illustrates what Ken is complaining about

Listen to the music while you read Ken's article
 
 
 
One of the reasons identified by the Barna Group as being responsible for nearly 60% of young people aged 15 years and over leaving Christianity either permanently or for an extended period of time was their belief that the church had a simplistic and judgmental approach to sexuality:
"With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church's expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”[1]
There is no doubt that simply badgering young people about the evils of a hyper-sexualised media and the need to avoid premarital and extramarital sex with little more than a series of ‘thou shalt nots’ isn’t going to work. What we need to do is show them that the much-derided traditional Christian approach actually has evidence on its side.


Take the subject of a hypersexualised media. I am not saying that watching Miley Cyrus twerking on TV is automatically going to lead to teenage pregnancy and an increased rate of pelvic inflammatory disease. However, as Chandra et al note that:
There is increasing evidence that youth exposure to sexual content on television shapes sexual attitudes and behavior in a manner that may influence reproductive health outcomes.[2]

 
The question that automatically follows is how much sexual content exists in the electronic and print media? Escobar-Chaves at al note that:

Several studies  have demonstrated clearly that sexual content is pervasive in TV programming, movies, music videos, and magazines; however, much less is known about sexual content on the radio (including remarks by disc jockeys)  and the sexual content of video and computer games.[3]

So we have evidence that exposure to a sexualised media can influence behaviour in a way that may lead to adverse sexual health outcomes, as well as evidence that such content is pervasive. It is hardly unreasonable to infer that this is less than desirable.

One point which I have not addressed so far is the fact that young adults are presumed to have more maturity and emotional sophistication than teenagers. Does this mean that they are less likely to be influenced by a highly sexualised media? Surprisingly, this may not be the case:

I was surprised at how much 18- to 20-year-olds are still affected by media's messages about sex" Ward says. "When we first started our research, we assumed that 15-year-olds who largely hadn't started dating yet would have much of their reality shaped by the media. They don't know the difference sometimes [between media reality and real life] and don't have the maturity to make informed choices about sex. But 18- to 20-year-olds are at the pinnacle, so to speak, when it comes to dating and relationships. They're older, more mature, less naive. And they're still affected.”[4]

By ‘affected’, one usually thinks of unplanned pregnancy in an age group that is emotionally and financially unprepared for this burden. Chandra et al have provided evidence that there exists a link between early pregnancy and exposure to a sexualised media:

‘This is the first study to demonstrate a prospective link between exposure to sexual content on television and the experience of a pregnancy before the age of 20. Limiting adolescent exposure to the sexual content on television and balancing portrayals of sex in the media with information about possible negative consequences might reduce the risk of teen pregnancy. Parents may be able to mitigate the influence of this sexual content by viewing with their children and discussing these depictions of sex.’[5]

Evidence exists that adolescents – at least in America – are having sex at relatively young ages, and with multiple partners, and that this is correlated with increased exposure to a sex-drenched media. Escobar-Chaves et al again:

Adolescents in the United States are engaging in sexual activity at early ages and with multiple partners. The mass media have been shown to affect a broad range of adolescent health-related attitudes and behaviors including violence, eating disorders, and tobacco and alcohol use. One largely unexplored factor that may contribute to adolescents' sexual activity is their exposure to mass media.[6]

‘Using the sexual-media–diet measure, these researchers report that among adolescents, heavier exposure to sexual content is associated with increased sexual activity and intentions to become sexually active’[7]

Finally, Chandra et al conclude that exposure to sexual material on television is a predictor of teenage pregnancy:

Our results indicate that frequent exposure to sexual content on television predicts early pregnancy, even after accounting for the influence of a variety of other known correlates of each.[8]
Ken thinks that Miley should not twerk

Watching Miley Cyrus twerking won’t automatically lead to teenage pregnancy, but statistically, constant exposure to the hyper-sexualised material in print and electronic media will increase the likelihood.

Apart from pregnancy, hyper-sexualised media has a deleterious impact on female self-image. Schaffner notes:
 
 
 
Narrative accounts of court-involved girls lives uncovered three social forces that combined to contribute to high rates of system involvement. I have discussed two: the emotional factor of familes' not protecting their girl children or meeting young women's needs and the economic factor of material need. In this section I dissect the cultural factor of an increased sexualization of young women caused by the global, burgeoning, multi-billion-dollar youth-sex-beauty industrial complex.[9]

Shaffner continues, noting how young women may think that adopting an oversexualised persona is empowering, when in reality they are simply becoming objects for male sexual gratification:

I mean oversexualized in the sense that young women are viewed primarily as sex objects by many male adults in their worlds, view their own place in the world as mostly providing sexual titillation for males, and see sex as their best - or only - resource for problem solving.[10]

‘Young women, bombarded with the cultural imperative to be sexy, reproduce the message as if they had thought of it themselves, thus falling into a dialectical, reflexive loop.[11]

The American Psychological association concurs:

Journalists, child advocacy organizations, parents, and psychologists have become alarmed, arguing that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing  problem and is harmful to girls. [12]

These problems cut across an astonishing range of areas ranging from sexual health to body image and long-term career aspirations:

‘This includes both short- and long-term effects of viewing or buying into a sexualizing objectifying image, how these effects influence girls’ development, self-esteem, friendships, and intimate relationships, ideas about femininity, body image, physical, mental, and sexual health, sexual satisfaction, desire for plastic surgery, risk factors for early pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted infections, attitudes toward women, other girls, boys, and men, as well as educational aspirations and future career success.’[13]
When we endeavour to raise the next generation of Christadelphians, evidence such as this helps to show why we are critical of sexually-explicit media, and why we exhort people to follow Paul's command in 1 Cor 6v18:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.

Needless to say, evidence such as this makes exhortations for Christian young people to abandon their faith in order to have a 'healthy, normal sex life' look simplistic at best, and reckless at worst. Maybe there's something to be said for the old-time religion after all?


[1] https://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church
[2] Chandra et al., 'Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen Pregnancy? Findings From a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth', Pediatrics (122.4.1047), 2008
[3] Escobar-Chaves, et al., ‘Impact of the Media on Adolescent Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors’, Pediatrics (116.1.320), 2005.
[4] Stewart, ‘Sex-Saturated Culture Sends Message to Kids’, Insight on the News (May 22, 2000).
[5] Chandra et al., 'Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen Pregnancy? Findings From a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth', Pediatrics (122.4.1047), 2008
[6] Escobar-Chaves, et al., ‘Impact of the Media on Adolescent Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors’, Pediatrics (116.1.303), 2005.
[7] ibid., p. 320.
[8] Chandra et al., 'Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen Pregnancy? Findings From a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth', Pediatrics (122.4.1052), 2008.
[9] Schaffner, 'Girls in Trouble with the Law', p. 98 (2006).
[10] , ibid., p. 99.
[11] ibid., p. 102
[12] American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, ‘Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Washington’, (2007).
[13] ibid., p. 43

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