Questions about readily available soft-porn images and our little boys

I snapped this photo at a local CVS drug store. This is a selection of the magazine covers displayed at the eye level of 6- to 12-year-old boys.

Pornography is said to be addictive and can cause changes in the brain, and has been found to cause sexual dysfunction in teens and young men. Meanwhile, soft porn and sexy images are constantly on display and just about impossible to avoid. So I’m wondering what effect the frequent viewing of images like the one above – which are so readily available in the environment of pre-pubescent boys – might be having on their developing brains and bodies. Any thoughts or concerns out there?

Comments

  1. Huge concerns! Thank you for reminding us that there is another layer in the issue of early sexualization. All of our kids need awareness and deserve protection.

  2. Concerned about the exploitation of children (and adults) for monetary gain, of course. It's a life struggle, and may our children fight for their liberty as we have.But the soft-porn panel you displayed set off other thoughts. This is not a case of abuse by respected relgious figures who target young boys especially. This is just a bunch of purveyers obeying the commercial law that states: sex sells.Perhaps in this case we should not be so concerned. Have a look at these religious and decorative images . Or these household paintings and ornaments so playfully common when the ruins of Pompei were unearthed. There are countless other examples of hard-core displays in our history. An appreciation for sexual allure is part of us and many peoples have celebrated that feeling freely. And the artisans who created that celebratory work were paid. They were more tasteful than the magazine cover designers.

  3. Miven Trageser says:

    I appreciate the comments from Weniger, adding context and depth to the conversation about erotica, art, and commerce. I am ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I appreciate your post, how it serves to remind us how desensitized we are to these soft-core images (and how asymmetrical they are, from a feminist perspective). On the other hand, I do not want to veer off into a protectionist kind of stance, heading into censorship.It's so hard to avoid these images especially in cities, in fact that's why we're desensitized, because they are omnipresent. After a long camping trip, I drove my daughter on Venice Blvd In Los Angeles, and she said, "Mom there are too many words" "What do you mean? Where?" "Just too many words."That was helpful to me. I translated it to mean "too many ads, too many images pushed on me, too many messages," and I realized that is life in the city, but giving her a break from it for two weeks was something that gave us both fresh eyes.

  4. It doesn't matter what type of 'core' we're talking about, porn is not harmless. It's a slippery slope to go from the 'soft' images you posted to 'hard' stuff. Just because we have freedom to print or produce whatever we want does not mean it is good. I can still remember the first woman-in-a-bikini picture I saw from 25+ years ago (and many others). It would be much better if the only images I had were of my wife in a bikini. I will do my best to protect my son from images like this and to teach him to discriminate between good and bad. Porn of any ilk is bad.

  5. I’m not sure the comparison to statuary in India or paintings from ancient Pompeii is entirely valid. The images on the magazine are not about the act of having sex, which is perfectly natural and one that can be explained to kids at an appropriate age. Rather, the magazine images are presenting women in one dimension—sex object. In addition to seeing women portrayed this way on magazine stands, boys also see very negative portrayals of females in the their own pop culture. In cartoons rated for 8-year-olds (and watched by boys of an even younger age) it is not uncommon to see highly sexualized images of females. Examples include many female superheroes, the girls in Bakugan, and many women in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Toy commercials for Monster High and Bratz dolls show similar imagery.It is indeed a fine line between censorship and taking responsibility for what kids see. I do not advocate censorship but I wonder why it is that we restrict kids’ access to movies with sexual themes, post ratings on video games and TV shows with adult themes, but allow publishers free rein in our public spaces to push these kinds of images on people? Why not put such magazines up higher, out of the view of young children?When talking about issues like this I often refer to a quote from Cardiff University professor Justin Lewis: “I think it’s a mistake for us to imagine that the only way that media affect us is through an immediate impact on the way we think… [it] is much more a question of creating a certain environment of images that we grow up in and that we become used to and after a while those images will begin to shape what we know and what we understand about the world.” What is the environment of images we have created of women teaching boys about females and femininity?

  6. I don't agree that porn of any ilk is bad. I like the nuanced way Crystal is holding this. The Justin Lewis quote is a great addition to the dialogue. It IS an environment of images that shape what we understand about the world. But the ways that sexual and gender identity gets created is incredibly multifaceted, influenced by self/other boundaries, brain body connections, earliest childhood..so many factors. Cultural images that surround us are just on one dimension, not necessarily causal.

  7. Crystal,Thanks so much for your contribution to the discussion. Both the Justin Lewis quote and your own naming that these images provide a uni-dimensional view of women (as sex objects) were helpful. I agree that censorship is unhealthy and unhelpful. I also think that early sexualization has negative impact on *all* of our children–boys and girls. I love the idea of moving the discussion to exploring how to increase media literacy for parents and children, increasing accountability for media and industry, and recognizing that while "sex sells", I'd rather it not be used to sell to (or sell images of) kids.

  8. Thanks all for the thoughtful comments. It’s an issue I’ve wondered about since my little 8 and 11 year old boys watched Victoria’s Secret ads during Red Sox games. Is this flooding them with hormones too early and causing some kind of premature physical change? Leading to desensitization already, perhaps?I do take some comfort in Weniger Gottquatch’s valid comment that sexual images have always been a part of human culture. However, my sense, like Crystal’s, is that there is a significant difference between those images of sexual behavior in ancient art, even if they were frequent, and what our boys are seeing now. The ancient art images show both male and female – while what we see a lot of now are women only in objectifying poses and costumes. Also, it seems to me there is a big difference between drawings and sculpture versus realistic photographs and video, which I think are likely to have a lot stronger impact on the young brain. As Brian points out, these images are very powerful and lasting. I’m quite certain that an environment of sexualization and objectification of girls and women is going to have an effect on boys’ attitudes. I’m less sure about the potential for direct physical, developmental harm caused by these types of images, but I would be very interested in what the research says, especially given the huge quantity of these images in our ambient media environment.

  9. We need to train them all to be feminists and media skeptics. Did anyone read this letter Dear Feminism? It says basically, if I had known you earlier, the various things I would not have endured. I thought of sharing it with some teens I know. http://thefbomb.org/2011/04/dear-feminism/

  10. Great letter! Definitely share it with teens. "Train them to be feminists and media skeptics" – yes. I doing my best on both counts. Media literacy education is a key step that can help protect and empower all of our kids, and ultimately all of us. Promoting media literacy education is going to be a major focus of my efforts going forward.

  11. For boys, I definitely believe that fathers or male role models need to step up and not purchase these magazines or keep them in the house. Even mags like Maxim and GQ have soft porn or sexualized women on their covers — I do believe in censoring businesses that objectify women. When we don't purchase these items, they have no choice but to go out of business.. sex sells — and here we are only talking about female sex– because we live in a patriarchal society — these mags are there to eroticize the female for the male clientelle — nothing more. When these images hurt girls, women, and boys, they need to be shut down…and the only ones that do that are the men that purchase them. The fathers, sons, and brothers that purchase them — all of whom are brought into the world by women. All this PC stuff is not benefiting women — freedom of speech is necessary, but not when it exists in the detriment of 53% of the population — women.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] to ensure male satisfaction. She’s a sexual object. That’s a harmful message for girls, and for boys. What this company, and many others, need is to get a lot more complaints, every time it happens, [...]

  2. [...] The following post is written by and republished here with the permission of Erin Mcneill, who runs a fabulous site called Marketing, Media, and Childhood. [...]

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