How Our Sex-Obsessed Culture is Hurting Young Women

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Nov 05, 2007 11:23 AM
How Our Sex-Obsessed Culture is Hurting Young Women

Tila Tequila has been Playboy’s Cyber Girl of the Week. She has self-published singles titled “F--- Ya Man,” and “Playgirl Central,” where she proclaims “I don't want no love, I just wanna get screwed!" She’s got more “friends” than anyone in the history of MySpace. She recently announced her bisexuality, and stars on a popular new MTV reality show. Tila has become a sign of the times.

Tila Tequila and her career have prompted ruminations on the nature of celebrity in The New York Times, and she’s been profiled in TIME magazine. But more than anything, the Tila phenomenon highlights a pernicious trend in American culture: Celebrating young women only for their “sexiness” and their willingness to flaunt it -- rather than for character, intelligence, or talent.

On “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila,” both straight men and lesbians vie for Tila’s affections. To do so, they engage in a variety of sexually explicit activities features lewd behavior among the contestants, encouraged and applauded by Tila herself, including group sleepovers and raunchy rounds of “Truth or Dare.” It is the most popular show in its time period among people 18-34, and no doubt has many younger viewers.

Certainly most young people understand that what they’re watching is more than a little over the top. But seeing the behavior also normalizes it – and allows women like Tila to set standards for young people all across the United States. When the culture tells girls that sexual decision making comes down to nothing more than “if it feels good, do it,” they become pressured to conform to a sexy ideal that’s as unwholesome as it is difficult to attain.

That’s quite a contrast from the days when American society (and media of all sorts) reflected a consensus that took into account the dangers – not only physical, but also emotional, psychological and even spiritual – of giving too much too soon. Now, girls have lost much of the social support that once buttressed decisions to abstain from sex, and parents and clergy are left trying to protect them from a culture that glamorizes sexual promiscuity and exhibitionism. Because of the example set by “celebrities” ranging from Tila Tequila to Paris Hilton (who came to prominence after the release of a sex tape), it seems more difficult to resist the advances of boys interested in nothing more than sex, appropriate to wear revealing clothes, and acceptable to behave in suggestive ways that would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago.

The results are devastating. Giving too much, too soon can result in girls confronting emotions including regret, anxiety, guilt, shame, and lack of trust in males. In fact, recent academic research has suggested that even modest sexual experimentation increases the risk of depression for girls, so it’s worth asking: Does the widespread sexual behavior celebrated by teen culture explain in part the CDC’s latest report finding that suicide rates among preteen and young teen girls had spiked by a whopping 76%?

It’s not easy to fight the pernicious messages being purveyed by the culture – but making the effort is important for the mental, physical and spiritual health of America’s girls. And as difficult as it may seem to bring about change, it is possible to create a more wholesome teen culture if people realize that their objections to the status quo are hardly idiosyncratic. After all, concerted effort and dedication on the part of environmentalists have brought us to a point where retailers are beginning to package detergents in smaller, more “earth-friendly” bottles and businesses brag about how “green” they are. Government involvement is unnecessary (and, when it comes to free expression, unwise) when Americans themselves are willing to confront the sexual saturation of the culture and demand something better.

It’s high time for a change. After all, a culture in which someone like Tila Tequila can be vaulted even to the outermost rings of the celebrity galaxy isn’t anywhere that America’s girls belong.