There is no doubt that sex sells. If you don’t believe it, look at the circulation and website visitor numbers for Playboy, Penthouse, Ralph, Zoo Weekly et al.

And though some might have issues using sex to sell full stop, if the target market is over 18, there is legally nothing wrong with using it. Morally it is a different matter and an opinion piece for someone else to write.

My concern is exposure of children to overt sexual messages in the name of greater sales.

PR uses sex to sell. I pitched some ideas to a client last year and one of them involved women in bikinis, but I don’t think PR sexualises children and I hope I am not proved wrong by a response to this article.

My take on it – advertising has a split second to grab your attention so it sometimes uses vivid imagery, sex and shock tactics to grab your attention.

PR, if it works, gets your attention for longer so it doesn’t have to resort to the same tactics and so far has kept itself clean(er) in this regard.

There are other issues around this debate including children growing up faster than ever before, their staggering knowledge of the world and what is happening, pornification of our culture, exposure to potential role models (good or bad depending on your viewpoint) and the phenomenal amount of disposable income spent by children and on children.

But constant exposure to these sorts of influences at an early age can lead to developmental problems:

  • Sexually suggestive music videos on television on weekend mornings, at the local bowling alley, etc.
  • Sexually explicit adult only DVD covers in the local video shop
  • Sexually explicit adult only magazine covers in supermarkets, newsagencies, etc.
  • Sexually overt and often degrading lyrics in popular songs
  • Highly sexualised Bratz dolls and others
  • Sexualised fashion and underwear for children – underwear for sale for young teens with slogans such as: $$$ Worth it, Naughty butt nice, Love sucks, Smile – its the 2nd best thing you can do with your lips, Bite this and Your boyfriend thinks Im hot. T-shirts for sale for young teens with slogans such as Ms Floozy, Mr Well-hung, Mr Pimp and Mr Asshole.
  • Explicit billboards
  • Web access to porn – both intentionally or unintentionally, and
  • Sexually explicit games on Xbox and Playstation, etc.

And as an aside, it is sexualisation of women (girls) that galvanises opinion. Sexualisation of men (boys) doesn’t happen as often and when it does, it doesn’t seem to cause the same reaction.

 The Australian Psychological Society is concerned enough to have issued a tip sheet for girls and parents about the early sexualistion of children at: http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/girls_positive_image/.

The Australia Institute’s report in 2006 titled Corporate Paedophilia reported on industry’s lack of responsibility to our children: https://www.tai.org.au/documents/downloads/NL49.pdf.

As a parent and a PR practitioner, I think we need to be careful of our children and let them grow up slower.

It’s easy to look back and wish growing up had taken longer but when you are young, one of the greatest motivators is to do things that older people can do. Trying to curb this natural desire is bound to be difficult and certainly isn’t helped by a market lighting a fire beneath it.

Things that strike me as pertinent:

Who are the parents that are buying this stuff for their children?  I am a strong believer that parents need to be the decision makers and if they don’t buy these sexualised products, retailers will have no incentive to stock them.

Who are the companies making these products for children? Some things are more important than money.

Who are the retailers stocking these products? Ditto.

Who are the advertisers taking on these accounts? I would hope that clearer heads can prevail and we can see targeted, well crafted advertising that doesn’t need this level of sexualisation to get a response.

There is a growing call for Government to intervene and legislate to attempt to solve this issue.  And it will happen that way if we don’t do something first.

What do you think?:

  • Should we let our nine year olds watch Justin Timberlake ‘bring sexy back’?
  • Do we accept that times have changed and childhood isn’t what it used to be?
  • Am I being an old-fashioned prude?
  • Do we need to do more to protect or children?