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Research

Why SPARK? Read the findings by the American Psychological Association and True Child.

We propose that the sexualization of girls occurs within three interrelated spheres:

  • The contribution by society—that is, the cultural norms, expectations, and values that are communicated in myriad ways, including through the media. A culture can be infused with sexualized representations of girls and women, suggesting that such sexualization is good and normal.
  • An interpersonal contribution—Girls can be treated as, and encouraged to be, sexual objects by family, peers, and others.
  • Self-sexualization—Girls may treat and experience themselves as sexual objects. If girls learn that sexualized behavior and appearance are approved of and rewarded by society and by the people (e.g., peers) whose opinions matter most to them, they are likely to internalize these standards, thus engaging in
    self-sexualization.
  • Increased Media Use Leading to More Risky Behavior in Teens
    (2008) Youngsters spend one-third of each day with some form of electronic media, and as a result more than 20 percent of American high school students have sexual intercourse for the first time before age fourteen. Youth that engage in sexual behavior before age thirteen are more likely to have multiple sexual partners, frequent sexual intercourse, use drugs and alcohol before sex, and have sex without a condom. The more sex children see on TV and in the movies, the more they intend to be sexually active with youth acting nine to seventeen months older than they really are.
  • Media Use Second Only to Sleep in Children’s Lives (2008)
    Media geared for families has shifted from originally targeting children and their parents to solely targeting young children as a separate marketing demographic. Children now devote more time to media than to any other single activity except sleep. Because of this they are performing worse in school, are less socially adjusted and engage in more risky behavior than previous generations.
  • Boys and Girls Who Listen to Sexually Degrading Music Have Earlier Sex (2007)
    Both boys and girls who listened to a lot of music with lyrics that promote “acceptance of women as sexual objects and men as pursuers of sexual content” were more likely to engage in a wide range of sexual activities at an earlier age.
  • Hyper-Sexualization of Young Women Linked to Depression, Eating Disorders (2007)
    Young women are being inundated with commercials, TV shows, toys, and other media encouraging them to be sexy and seductive. As a consequence, they are dieting to achieve a thin “ideal” body, focusing more on projecting seductiveness, and having more sex and less safer sex. This hyper-sexualization of young women is linked to three of their most common mental health complaints: eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem. The authors believe that the early sexualization of young girls is linked to the same sort of harmful outcomes as young women experience.
  • Girls with Narrowly Stereotypic Beliefs about Their Bodies Have Less Safe Sex, More Early Pregnancy (2006)
    Young women are being inundated with commercials, TV shows, toys, and other media encouraging them to be sexy and seductive. As a consequence, they are dieting to achieve a thin “ideal” body, focusing more on projecting seductiveness, and having more sex and less safer sex. This hyper-sexualization of young women is linked to three of their most common mental health complaints: eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem. The authors believe that the early sexualization of young girls is linked to the same sort of harmful outcomes as young women experience.
    Other stereotypic beliefs about girls were also strongly linked to lower sexual health. For instance, girls who believed they should be “seen and not heard” were also less likely to use contraception, to feel confident about speaking their mind, or to feel comfortable being successful if it might make others feel inferior. Almost 50% of these girls did not use a condom during their last sex– which makes them more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and more likely have an unplanned or early pregnancy.
  • TV Viewing Impacts Adolescents’ Sexual Attitudes, Behaviors (2006)
    TV viewing can greatly impact the sexual attitudes and behavior of adolescents. High school students that frequently view talk shows, “sexy” prime-time programs, and view TV more intently for companionship are likely to highly endorse sexual stereotypes. Additionally, more frequent viewing and stronger identification with popular TV characters leads to greater levels of sexual experience among high school students. The more specific the stereotypical content, the greater the acceptance of gender and sexual stereotypes. As a result, television is serving as a major sexual educator in the lives of teens.
  • Exposure to Sexual Media Increases Sexual Activity in White, Black Adolescents (2006)
    Exposure to sexual content in music, movies, television, and magazines accelerates white adolescents’ sexual activity and increases their risk of engaging in early sexual intercourse. White adolescents aged 12 to 14 years old that watch high levels of sexualized media are 2.2 times more likely to have had sexual intercourse when 14 to 16 years old than white adolescents who watch limited levels of sexualized media. On the opposite side, Black teens are more influenced by perceptions of their parents’ expectations, which often include disapproval of teen sex, and their friends’ sexual behavior than by what they see and hear in the media.
  • Self-Objectification Can Affect Girls’ Performance in Sports (2005)
    Studies show that girls do actually throw differently from boys. In fact, “throwing like a girl” can be linked to media sexualization, which teaches girls to see their own bodies as objects to be viewed and judged, rather than to be used and exercised. This study found that girls throw with a weak, arm-only motion because they think of their bodies as objects to be viewed. So they worry about the way they look throwing the ball, not how well they throw it. Moving only their arms is an attempt to maintain an appearance of femininity and avoid looking silly or uncoordinated (a problem boys don’t have).
  • TV Changes Fiji’s Centuries-Old Beauty Perceptions in Just a Few Years (2004)
    Studies have shown that being bombarded with television messages really is harmful to girls’ self-image. One of the ways researchers have demonstrated this is to look at relatively isolated “virgin” cultures, where TV is just being introduced.
  • Advertisements Encourage Girls to Dress Sexy (2004)
    Advertisements are increasingly showing girls “dressed up” to look adult and promiscuous, while grown women are “dressed down” to appeal to “school girl” and “jail bait” fantasies. Because these images are so widespread girls assume they are condoned by adults and often seek to imitate the ads by dressing suggestively. Problems such as high teen pregnancy rates, sex slavery, sexually transmitted diseases, eating disorders and teen suicide are linked to these pervasive “Lolita” images which suggest that girls want to engage in sexual activity with grown men.
  • Tween Clothing Becoming Sexier, More Adult (2004)
    Today’s “tweens” result from 60 years of marketing that entices young girls to dress like teenagers and women. In the late 1970s, a shift toward more sexual clothing for tweens began. Girls were encouraged to embrace the attitude of “13 going on 18” by wearing form -fitting jeans, tight blouses and high heels. Today’s advertisers continue supporting this attitude with products like “eye candy” thong underwear for 7-year-olds and using tweens as models for adult fashion lines. These marketing strategies are so successful at sexualizing young girls that the line between child and adult is being blurred. One girl believes that tween clothing “screams abduction”. Indeed, children’s clothing is now a sexual fetish for some adults as women shop for schoolgirl skirts and uniforms in order to look sexy for men.
  • Girls Compare Themselves to TV Images (2004)
    Celebrities and models in TV commercials portray an unrealistic definition of beauty to boys and girls, telling viewers that boys should be muscular and girls should be thin. When viewing these ideal body images in a TV commercial, a boy’s attitude towards his own body is significantly less affected than that of a girl.

    Because they compare themselves to unrealistic media images, girls this age tend to be dissatisfied with the way their bodies look, lowering their self-esteem. Boys are less likely to experience these self-esteem issues.

  • Making Girls Hyper-Feminine Can Undermine Sexual Health (2000)
    Traditionally, “good girls” are assumed to be white and middle class and inquiries into sexual health have been focused mainly on girls of color and those from lower income families. This is apparently based on the tacit assumption that these are the only girls who are sexual. However, stereotypic beliefs about femininity threatens the sexual health of girls, including any girl who believes in her body as an object, feels she must be someone else in romantic relationships, and who feels she should defer to boys about her sexuality. In fact, the more a girl believes she should let boys control relationship sexuality, the more likely she is to engage in high-risk behavior that threatens her health.
  • Model and Fitness Magazines Linked to Eating Disorders and Supplement Use (2003)
    Teenage girls and boys who read health and fitness magazines are less satisfied with their bodies, and are more likely to take supplements and participate in anorexic and bulimic behaviors.Teen girls and boys who compared their bodies to the pictures of models and athletes in health and fitness magazines were more likely to want to be thinner, avoid eating when hungry, vomit after eating, and take laxatives to lose weight. In addition, teenage boys were more likely to take pills or supplements to get bigger muscle. The pictures seemed to be particularly important, because teenagers who read but focused more on the articles were less likely to participate in harmful behaviors, so it’s probably comparing themselves to unrealistic body images that creates the body dissatisfaction.