Boys = predators, girls = victims
Over the past ten years there has been an explosion of concern about the sexual nature of society and the sexualisation of young people. The way young people are described is highly gendered – polarised and separated into two camps. Girls are influenced to become ‘too sexy too soon’, robbed of their natural, childhood innocence. Boys meanwhile have no natural innocence, and are latent predators. Through sexualisation this latent sexual aggression id reinforced and they are taught to objectify women – growing up believing they have an intrinsic right to sex whenever and however they want.
This polarised analysis is problematic for both boys and girls and is reliant on rather essentialist notions of women as passive and boys as aggressive. This is thought to regulate behaviours , autonomy and consequently impact on choices such as condom use. Whilst carrying a condom is increasingly more acceptable, a young women who does so is risking her reputation. Girls have to adhere to a long standing sexual standard. They can’t be seen to be interested in sex unless it’s proper, healthy sex – (whatever that is) for fear of being labeled a slag and a whore (frequently by their female peers). Adhering to this sexual script of young woman as passive recipient reinforces traditional stereotypical models of masculinity – giving young men limited option for exploring a range of masculinities, once again without fear of recrimination; being called a ‘puff’ or ‘gay’.
We do not condone physical, emotional or sexual violence in any way, however, if our concern is protecting girls and women (or indeed any young person/adult), another approach would be to move away from these restrictive linear demarcations of sexuality and sexual activity we see in debates about sexualisation – towards an approach which prioritises sexual competency, erotics and ethics. This requires rejection of universalised assumptions about male and female sexuality. Rather than prescribing a list of ‘forbidden’ and ‘permissible’ sexual relationships or activities, individuals can work to ensure that all sexual activity is safe and consensual – an important aspect of advancing safe sexual practices and mutual sexual pleasure.