In Japan, it is hard to avoid the disturbing spectacle of young girls being treated as sex objects. In M’s Pop Life, a sex shop in Tokyo’s Akihabara district life-size models of girls, their breasts at various stages of puberty is openly on sale.
Across the world, these are growing concerns about children being portrayed sexually, and the effects on the children themselves. This comes in two forms. The first ‘direct; sexualization, includes advertising, TV programmes and magazine content that portray children, especially girls, as sexually aware or active. The second is ‘indirect’ – the worry that, thanks to the internet, children witness even more depictions of sexual activity. They are likely to see far more pornography than earlier generations and at a younger age.
Japan has belatedly been reining in some excesses. In 2014 it banned the possession of child pornography. Japan still lags behind other countries.
Across the rich world, countries are grappling with how to deal with the over-sexualization of children. The assumption is that exposure to sexualized images is linked to a growing number of sexual incidents including children. There is more peer-on-peer abuse.
And ‘sexting’ – sending explicit images – is widespread.
Precocious sexualization is recognized as causing some forms of harm. One is to mental health! Children, mainly girls, lose self-esteem when they feel that the only way they are valued is if they act sexually.
A second possible type of harm is that a sexualized, pornographic culture may give children damaging ideas about sex.
A third sort would be if such material encouraged pedophilia. There is a fear that ubiquitous images of sexualized children and child pornography foster the pedophile delusion that sees ordinary, spontaneous and tactile children as flirtatious.
Countries need to face up to the cultural backdrop behind over-sexualization, says Michelle Jongenelis, a researcher at Australia’s Curtin University. That images of girls looking sexy are so much more prevalent than those of boys reflects sexism and the sexual objectification of women so does the way much pornography shows women being treated in a degrading manner. Children assimilate these norms through the images of their peers and the products pushed at them – including, at the extreme, pornography.
Extract from The Economist July 21st, 2018