Sex Sells


Sex Sells Essay, Research Paper

As Americans we tend to have a conditioned view toward sexuality as a normal, healthy part of life. However, it seems that one may underestimate the power that sex has on culture, which is evident in the many areas. Most recently discussions on a sexual nature received extreme national prominence with the public events surrounding the Kenneth Starr investigation and report, which focuses on the sexual aspects of the relationship between President Bill Clinton and a former intern, Monica Lewinsky. The result was a war of beliefs, morals and differences of cultures mixed with political manipulations. With the increase of sexual presence in our society, it is often wondered how this increase has affected morals and values of those who live it. Sex is everywhere–not just limited to the bedroom, but to the television, movies, billboards, office buildings and almost every fragment of modern culture. Around the turn of the twentieth century, open discussion and study of sex was well on its way. Sexual/cultural pioneer, Sigmund Freud believed that sexuality was tightly woven in all persons, present from birth. His breakthrough thinking affected social practices and was instrumental in breaking the “moral fog that had enshrouded sexuality for most of the nineteenth century did not begin to lift until after the First World War” (Janus 1993). By analyzing modern culture, a person can accurately determine the effects of the sexual revolution and how it has led to the alterations or evolution of personal, moral and ethical principals.

Where do we get our morals and values? Character education was what took place in school and society in the past. This drilling of acceptable social conventions seemed to ?contain? our culture for many years. In modern years society has shifted to the “decision-making approach” (Kilpatrick 1993). This approach takes many forms, sometimes as a course in itself, sometimes as a strategy in sex education classes, sometimes as a unit in civics or social sciences–it has set the tone for modern moral education in public and even private schools. “The shift from character education to the decision-making model was begun with the best of intentions. The new approach was meant to help students to think more independently and critically about values” (Kilpatrick 1993). Followers of this approach claimed that a young person would be more committed to self-discovered values than to ones that were simply handed down by adults. That was the hope, but the actual effect of the shift has been quite different. For students, it has meant confusion about moral values: learning to question values they have scarcely acquired, unlearning values taught at home, and concluding that questions of right and wrong are always changing with the influence of society. We live in a sexual world, but Americans have been slow to fully acknowledge its enormous impact. Among those interviewed in the Janus Report who were 18 to 26 years old, 21% of the men and 15% of the women had had sexual intercourse by age 14; a small percentage of them had had their first intercourse before age 10. “It ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people.” (Noonan 1999) This statement accurately portrays moral education today. “The Day America Told the Truth,” a 1990 survey of American beliefs and values contains this scene from a California high school. The setting, Friday afternoon and the students are leaving a class in ?social living.? The teacher’s parting words are, ?have a great weekend. Be safe. Buckle up. Just say no. And if you can’t say ‘No,’ then use a condom! (Kilpatrick 1993) Although the teacher in this example gives a nod in the direction of abstinence, his approach is basically of the “responsible sex” variety. Sex is an image that Americans have grown accustomed too. Sex is everything. If you’re good looking, then you’re having sex. If you’re sexy, then you’re having sex. If you’re having sex, you’re popular, and people are more likely to buy stuff from your company if you show people having sex. Sex sells. Sex sells cigarettes. Sex sells cars. Sex sells clothes, alcohol and vacuum cleaners.

One way that a breakdown of sexual restraint hurts society is the educational sphere. There is abundant evidence that the more sexually active students do poorly in school and tend to drop out more frequently (Noonan 1999). For all of the teenage girls, who drop out of school, half of them do so because of pregnancy. But that figure only suggests one small aspect of the problem. The constant distraction caused by worries about sex and about relationships takes a tool on schoolwork. Dieting has become an unfortunate cultural phenomenon, especially for women and girls, whose self-image is often closely linked with their body image. Eating disorders are more common in girls because they believe it’s their role in society to be sexy. Numerous studies have been conducted to determine the history of sexual abuse in eating disorders patients, and the findings have been controversial. “The figures range from 7% to 74%, with most studies showing that between 20-69% of anorexics and bulimics have been abused” (Janus 1993). It is important to note, however that not everyone who has been sexually abused develops anorexia and not all anorexics have been sexually abused. For many survivors, anorexia can also serve as a way to make their bodies less desirable to potential perpetrators. In one sense, mature adolescents deny their sexuality by returning to a prepubescent state, developing amenorreah or loss of menstruation, which is one of the criteria for diagnosing anorexia.

Unfortunately, teachers have been reluctant to discuss sex in absolute moral terms, leaving students with the impression that it’s purely as subjective matter. It turns out that when adults confront teens over sexual misbehaviors, a frequent response is simply, “I didn’t know it was wrong.” Everyone is a product of his or her culture. We tend to conform to cultural expectations, even if not perfectly. Our present culture sends out confused and misleading messages about sex-messages that, in the long run, may cause more harm than good. A former secretary of education observed,”I have never had a parent tell me that he or she would be offended boy a teacher telling a class that it is better to postpone sex. Or that marriage is the best setting for sex, and in which to have and raise children. On the contrary, my impression is that the overwhelming majority of parents would gratefully welcome help in transmitting such values.” (Kilpatrick 1993) The long history of sexually transmitted diseases has made caution in sex one of the facts of life. In the late 1980s, the AIDS epidemic made caution in sex a fact of life or death. It was no longer a moral issue. When AIDS surfaced as a national problem, the sexually active momentarily panicked. The enormous tensions generated by these devastating STD?s made practice of casual sex pause. “The new social and sexual changes in lifestyles have been adopted by many other participants. Divorced or separated men and women, newly single, are dating again and searching for sex partners and new love. Parents in their 40’s and 50’s and 60’s are enjoying a new sexual style at the same time their teenage or young adult children are also experimenting with sex, and seeking loving relationships. There are few guidelines now, except for cautions about sexually transmitted diseases. The old rules governing sex no longer apply, and many individuals and couples now create their own moral and lifestyle decisions, or make them within the morality of their own small, peer reference groups” (Janus 1993).

In the Janus report, 45% of women and 19% of men claimed to have been sexually harassed on their jobs. In the interviews, the men attributed the harassment they experienced to both heterosexual and homosexual individuals; the women ascribed their harassment almost entirely to men. In an age of liberation, it is interesting that an issue so broad gained national attention so accidentally. Why all the sudden there an underlying awareness of widespread sexual harassment on the part of women? The intensity and speed of reaction to the charges readily support this assumption. Sexual Harassment has become a household topic across America. Today, men and women are more free than ever to explore their sexual beings in or out of marriage. Their transformed sex roles, feminism movement and the sexual revolution cause increased communication outside the home. Today, medicine, psychology and sociology advise that people should keep on having sex as long as they wish. Sexuality becomes adapted to the context of the sexual experience, at all ages. While early adolescence are experimenting with full sexual activities of diverse varieties and young couples are seeking sex for reproduction, older couples are enjoying the comfort and excitement of sex in a new appreciated form. “A new, vital, and active sexuality has been identified among mature, and post mature Americans. While society frets about preteens’ frolicking and college students’ antics on Spring break in Florida, the graying segment of Americans may be leading the way in superior sexual experience” (Janus 1993).

Other issues relating to sexuality have also made headlines over the past two decades. Divorce rates leaped in the 1970’s, absent or self-involved parents and child-rearing practices were blamed for creating misbehaving, out-of-control kids; the family was believed to be in big trouble. Very young adults are living together without the benefit of marriage. Meanwhile, kids are experimenting with their own sexuality at earlier and earlier ages. Barely out of their own childhood, teenagers are producing babies at ever-growing rates. By the 1980’s, nearly a million mothers under 18 were giving birth every year. (Janus 1993) Of these young women, 70% were unmarried, up from 30% only a decade earlier. Some estimates indicate that as many as 10,000 extremely young women age 12 or younger, become pregnant every year. (Janus 1993) The younger these children are when they have their first child, the more likely they are to have at least one more child before their teen years end. These children who have children are particularly at risk of dropping out of school and becoming social throwaways who face a bleak future and are wanted only on the streets. Later, unable to get and hold jobs, they will drop out of the labor market as well, creating cycles of deep, depressing, poverty as their children and grandchildren in turn become teenage, single, unemployable parents. This idea represents the attitude of our culture to criticize teen parents and to make an example of ?those kids.look what can happen to you.etc.? However, this is not always the case, many teen mothers are extremely successful in personal and professional careers. Many times the father will support the baby who shares his genes, even if they do not act as a family unit.

By analyzing many factors where sex is apparent on modern culture, it is obvious how this increased presence has significantly affected values and morals on related topics. There has been a dramatic shift in attitude in just a small period of time and it will be interesting to see how these changes will continue to evolve and adapt to new introductions of culture and it?s influence.

BibliographyJanus, Samual S., Ph.d and Janus, Cynthia L., M.D. ?The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior.?1993

Kilpatrick, William; Why Johnny Can?t Tell Right from Wrong; Reprint, Touchstone Books; 1993

W.I., Thomas. “The Psychology of Exogamy” Chapter 6 in Sex and Society: Studies in the Social Psychology of Sex. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, (1907): 175-197.

Noonan, J. Raymond ?Sexuality in the Age of Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinky, and Kenneth Starr?, Gary L. ?Pro & Con: Society?s Standards? Whose Values Will Prevail??; Thursday, March 13, 1997


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