chapter
Introduction
Pages 11

This book examines the issue of the sexualization of childhood in relation to the role played by mediated experiences in children’s lives. There has been growing concern in different parts of the world about the increased infiltration of sexual themes and attributes into a wide range of child experiences. This debate is multifaceted. It has been articulated within contexts such as consumerism and materialism; feminism and the status of women as citizens; crime and personal security; the status of the economy and the emergence of under classes and poverty ghettoes; and the impact of rapidly evolving communications technologies that have economic, political, social, cultural and psychological implications for the well-being of children. The debate about ‘sexualization’ in childhood had adopted a stance that it represents

a phenomenon that is characterized by a distortion of childhood socialization. Sex and sexuality are core aspects of human character and their manifestations take different forms in different settings and are linked throughout to gender. The psychological development of children is underpinned by their inherited biological make-up and their learning from their social experiences. Boys and girls learn how to behave in different settings, and expectations about behaviour can take on common forms for both genders as well as being gender specific. Over time, a sexual aspect to their development becomes increasingly apparent

as they approach adulthood. There is nothing abnormal about this process. The rate at which physical and social development takes place can vary from child to child, and this includes the age at which the onset of sexual characteristics emerges.1

Sometimes, adult-like sexual attributes can begin to emerge long before a child reaches his or her teens. The concerns that have been raised about the ‘sexualization of childhood’ are grounded in a belief that environmental factors can conspire to introduce sexualized themes into a child’s life too early. In effect, there is an intervention that might change the natural rate of sexual maturation for most children. Thus, children’s attention is drawn unnecessarily to sexual themes, inviting them to

adopt adult-like styles of appearance and behaviour before they have matured sufficiently in a physical and psychological sense to be able to cope with social pressures and risks that might follow on from this intervention.2