Why sexualisation can be an unhelpful term

There is a difficulty with the language we sometimes use. Often we talk about the sexualisation of society and particularly the sexualisation of childhood. This is a wide-ranging term that includes fully-clothed adults kissing, for example. However, in this description we regularly conflate it with exposure to pornography as if that is merely a subset of sexualisation. Whilst I have objections to certain aspects of sexualisation in, say, advertising, I agree with researcher Meagan Tyler that subsuming pornography into sexualisation leads to an unhealthy association between sex and pornography. Pornography uses sexual stimulus, yes, but it is a woefully distorted depiction of sex that has no emotional intimacy. Because of this one-way voyeuristic practice it objectifies women and corrodes the self-esteem of us all. In short – it is counterfeit goods.

Many of us would say that regarding sex as a taboo subject has damaged our ability to educate and encourage best practice in Relationships and Sex Education. The porn industry has therefore felt vindicated in celebrating the wide acceptance of its product as a major contribution to get us talking about sex. Would a wider acceptance of armed robbery help us to better understand the craft of Olympic pistol shooting? No – because its values are demonstrably different. So it is with porn. It is not about sex – it is about money, power and abuse. So ‘pornographication’ (seemingly the preferred academic term) or the short-hand ‘pornification’ is a much more helpful way to describe the mainstreaming of this practice. For the sake of the abused, the entrapped and those whose self-image is twisted by this corrosive practice, we need to get our terminology right – our culture has been pornified and it is time we challenged the impostor.

Reference: http://vu.academia.edu/MeaganTyler/Papers/963967/The_Politics_of_Pornography_and_Pornographication_in_Australia


2 thoughts on “Why sexualisation can be an unhelpful term

  1. Hi Gareth
    What a fascinating insight into a world that few of us wish to or admit to spending time in. So here is a question which I would like to pose. If we accept that childhood abuse has a strong link to the worlds of pornography and prostitution, both of which are causes that the Western Church has spent a great deal of its energy attempting to fix, why have we been so slow to respond to the needs of abused children and failed so many who have been abused. Let us hope that the next time one of us gets irritated by the demand that we are CRB checked in order to carry out a task, that we remind ourselves that checks and balances depend on a great deal more than having confidence in the people we are working with.

    1. Ian
      I’m sure there are a number of reasons why we have been so slow to respond. Firstly, there was a cultural silence about domestic abuse- we didn’t know it existed. Secondly, when society became more open about this I think churches became too defensive as they knew or suspected there was trouble in their midst. Thirdly, many churches are still incredibly fearful of talking about sex in their congregations- the older members would be shocked, it might open a can of worms on a number of sex-related fronts etc. I am still shocked about the silence I receive after asking the question ‘When was sex (or pornography) last referred to in your church setting?’ And yet it is a fundamental part of our humanity and pornography is trapping perhaps 50% of our church members. I agree, filling in the laborious CRB form is the very least we can do. Today we have received yet another huge sweep of arrests on child pornography charges: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18442288 If we don’t start talking more openly we can expect more of the same. And we will have betrayed offenders and victims alike.

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