Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

A Sex Saturated Culture Harms Our Children

August 11, 2002

I am an environmentalist. I am not talking about the greenhouse effect, whales, black-footed ferrets, ozone holes, spotted owls, amazon forests, wetlands, pesticides or biodiversity. Nope. We have other threats greater than those to deal with.

Tobacco. By any standard, the biggest pollutant and threat to human life is tobacco that is inhaled into sensitive lungs. Tobacco use accounts for more deaths than homicide, suicide, fires, car accidents, alcohol, heroine, cocaine, meth, and AIDS combined. Even second hand smoke adds to the grisly total.

Practically no new smokers are recruited as adults. A reduction of tobacco use by teens has happened because effective media campaigns and public education has changed perceptions of tobacco as being "cool". Unfortunately Hollywood is indifferent or promotes smoking by having its heroes and heroines puffing away.

Sexual promiscuity and premarital relationships. Tobacco may not be the biggest environmental threat to human life and happiness. There is a new form of pollution: the depiction of private sexual acts and the divorcing of sexual relations from values of bonding, trust and commitment in marital relationships through mass communication.

The depiction of promiscuous sexuality is taking an unprecedented toll. AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancies and weakened bonds of commitment after marriage are the results. Teen willingness to engage in premarital sexual behavior comes at a time before they are emotionally mature and able to assume responsibility for their sexual behavior.

Notions about premarital sex being wrong, immoral and misguided have been overwhelmed by the sexual revolution and attitudes suggesting that no harm is being done.

The challenges to health and well-being of American's youth are not primarily rooted in illness or economics but in life inhibiting and life threatening risks. The problem is self-destructive behavior - drinking, drugs, violence, promiscuity. This is a crisis of behavior and beliefs, a crisis of character.

Our society does send out messages against AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. However, at the same time, our youth is bombarded with thousands and thousands of images, depictions, innuendos, and messages of sex.

Visions of sex. Movies, TV, videos, magazines, the Internet, music lyrics and advertisements are increasingly explicit in portraying graphic sexual activity. Sex sells. Advertisers and producers of media products continually push the limits of decency. There are practically no limits. You see things in PG and PG-13 movies that would surely have carried an R rating just a few years back. Go back a few more years and they wouldn't have been shown at all.

These scenes are meant to have an impact. Advertisers wouldn't pay good money if they didn't get results. It appears so glamorous, so adult, and it sells so many tickets. The sexuality portrayed is seen as "normal" entertainment. What is shown to be commonplace becomes commonplace.

How much exposure to sexual images is sufficient before valid and meaningful expression of sexuality becomes distorted? In the absence of strong moral values and teachings, what chance do teens have for learning restraint in sexual behavior? Is there any wonder why our teens are sexually precocious? Someday we'll wake up and discover we put a whole generation through a form of electronic sexual abuse.

Adults are enticed by sexual images. It is easy to pretend that our children are not affected. Not enough people are interested in reigning in the rampant exploitation and degradation of the minds and souls of human beings. If we would have had a moral pollution index that kept track of the amount and type of exposure of sexual scenes in the popular media since 1970, the numbers would jump off the chart.

Impact on relationships. Sexual relations is a "private" act in the context of a marital relationship. Healthy sexuality doesn't need voyeuristic depictions of lovemaking to be satisfyingly expressed.

The sexual preoccupation and obsession of our society doesn't contribute to better relationships.

In fact, the use of pornography creates fantasies that may not measure up to reality and leads to dissatisfaction.

Showing graphic sexual scenes between unmarried couples devoid of commitment and love debases and trivializes the act that can mean much to marital happiness. The explosion of unmarried couples living together sets a poor foundation for marriage if their relationship makes it that far.

Taking action. An ecological perspective suggests that we need a holistic, long range understanding between actions and events so we can avoid the unforeseen and unintended consequences to life by short-sighted specialized interests. We need to apply this perspective to our moral environment before it becomes so polluted that it is unsafe for our children and their normal development.

It is pollution! It is pollution of sexuality! It is pollution of values! It is pollution of society! It is time to take advertisers and producers of media products to task for the gratuitous use of sex scenes that abuse children and young people.

Legislation doesn’t provide much relief. Education and consumer boycotting can get results. If you see an objectionable ad, complain. Vote with your pocket book and viewing habits. Don’t aid and abet exploitative interests who appeal to our baser instincts and mesmerize us into standing by and letting innocent children become sexualized by an uncaring and value-free culture.