Part II

Youth, Sex and the Media  

(Back to part I)

The attitude an individual has toward human sexuality is highly symbolic. It not only tells us about that individual's personal feelings of security and insecurity, but how the person deals with life in general.

-Dr. Cherry Lee

There have also been other reasons for this revolution in values. Thousands of American youth have visited other cultures and have become acquainted first hand with other patterns of male-female relations, family life, and sexual expression. Likewise, people from other lands are visiting the United States with equal freedom, bringing with them other attitudes and values.

In some cultures the art and propensities of lovemaking can be discussed as freely as the art of weaving. However, this is not generally true in the United States. At the present time there exists an enormous gulf between the sexual patterns espoused by parents and the sexual patterns being developed by today's youth.

All of this has resulted in enormous confusion and uncertainty regarding sexual standards. Gannon says that a great deal of adolescent unhappiness and confusion can be directly tied to anxiety resulting from problems with sex.(26)

The Role of the Mass Media

We now arrive at what turns out to be -- possibly through a kind of default -- the most pervasive and consistent influence upon youth in the area of sexuality -- the mass media.

The extent of the influence of television, films, men's magazines, women's magazines, paperback books, radio, etc. is undoubtedly far greater than is generally realized. Because of the media's almost total saturation in American culture, the actual extent of their influence upon ideas and values is impossible to isolate and quantify.

We often forget that young people represent radio's most dedicated and loyal audience. it's not unusual for a single "top-40" radio station to reach 75 percent or more of an area's teenagers every week.(27) Despite some adult claims that words to pop music are incomprehensible, these words come in "loud and clear" day-after-day for most teen-ages. The sexual emphasis is consistent and unmistakable.

With television, the country's most influential medium, the sexual messages are more obvious to adults. In a poll by "TV Guide," 59% of respondents said they thought there was too much emphasis on sex in television.(28)

Television producers have long known that opposition to sexual themes in television varies greatly according to education level, north-south geographical location, urban-rural background and age, and, consequently, they can never please all the people all the time. Producers also know that sex consistently garners ratings, and, therefore, profits.

At the same time, it's not so much the sexual emphasis in TV programming that bothers many social scientists, but the unrealistic portrayal of human sexuality.( 29)

Considering A New Approach


It is in the younger age groups that problems, due in large measure to our prevailing unhealthy social attitudes about sex, are known to result in "tragic and devastating consequences."

Given all that has been outlined thus far, what is an approach that is consistent with the facts? 

The answer cannot be a blackout of sexuality in the media; it cannot be the preaching of a strictly negative approach to sexuality (Sex is sin and it will invariably get you in bad trouble.); nor should it be a highly romanticized or unrealistic portrayal of sex. All of these have caused, and are causing, major problems.

According to Levine, the need for honest, open, and effective information for children has passed out of the area of controversy, since today, with few exception, educators, parent groups, medical authorities, psychologists, sociologists, jurists and even most religious leaders, are in complete agreement that sexual information is essential to the healthy development of children.(30)

According to Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen who are the authors of several books on sex and morals, sexual curiosity awakens early in a child and if it's discouraged, distorted or suppressed, it may produce a more general intellectual inhibition which can set up blocks to learning and lay the foundations for personal limitations on creative potential, achievement and efficiency.(31)

The Kronhausens, who have both specialized in the sexual-psychological problems in youth, state that it's in the younger age groups that problems, due in large measure to our prevailing unhealthy social attitudes about sex, are known to result in "tragic and devastating consequences.(32)

>>If we linked the physical aspects of sex with the emotional and moral correlates, society would have far less to fear from the influences of so-called pornography .

Giving evidence for this observation about the "present unhealthy attitudes toward sex in society," the Kronhausens refer to the "educational blackout" of high-caliber erotic art, which includes many of the great works of the masters, from Rembrandt to Picasso. The resultant loss in sociological historical and psychological insight for youth is great. The blackout is so appalling, according to the Kronhausens, as to be truly embarrassing to any honest American study of art history.(33)

In another area, the Kronhausens state that education in literature has missed a "golden opportunity" by not linking the physical aspects of sex with the emotional and moral correlates.(34) If this were done society would have far less to fear from the influences of so-called pornography.

A TV network censored a sequence of John Steinbeck's The Red Pony, which showed a mare giving birth, but broadcast the rather hideous sequence from The Godfather showing a beheaded horse.

In a rather controversial suggestion, the Kronhausens say that it would be advantageous to introduce a certain amount of healthy social nudism in group swimming, gymnastics and similar classes for youth.

Contrary to the general attitudes and prejudices in this connection, if such practices were introduced early and naturally into the life of children, it would go a long way toward reducing the false shame, morbid curiosity, and unhealthy attitudes that now are evident with respect to the nude human body. Experiences in other cultures indicate that such practices would reduce the inclination toward sex perversions and sex crimes in this country (35)

Many examples of television's current stand on this whole issue come to mind. A nationally syndicated TV column pointed out that a TV network censored a sequence of John Steinbeck's The Red Pony, which showed a mare giving birth, but broadcast the rather hideous sequence from The Godfather showing a beheaded horse.

The network is undoubtedly reflecting the prevailing tolerance of viewers, but does this then mean that the natural function of birth is somehow too ugly or indecent for viewers, while the cruel decapitation of an animal is okay? Exactly what message are we instilling in young viewers about the prevailing attitudes and values in society?

Some parents censured the hostess of a children's series the writer produced because a dress that she wore revealed too much of her breasts. It was explained that this might have an "unwholesome influence" on children -- the same children who not too long before were nursing.

Johnson and Schulz say that objective and scientific realities have rendered traditional sex values out of phase with the present day.(36)

In light of this we must re-examine our old values, attitudes, and approaches in this crucial area of human relations.

Adult social responsibility has always required that older people help the young in effective life adjustment. According to research, in too many cases adults are creating more problems in the area of human sexuality than they are solving.

References for this article are below.

A discussion of the effects sexual imagery can be found here.


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1. Jhan and June Robbins, "The Growing Need for Sex Education in Our Schools," Good Housekeeping, Vol. 161, Nov. 1965, pp. 94-5, 255-9.

2. Lawrence Lipton, The Erotic Revolution (New York: Sherbourne Press, Inc., 1965), p. xiii, preface.

3. Selma H. Frailberg, "What Teen-agers Don't Know About Sex," Parents Magazine, Vol. 38, July, 1963, p. 35.

4. Ron Whittaker, "Survey of Attitudes Toward the Inclusion of Sex Education in the Curriculum of Schools As Expressed In Selected Literature, 1960-66." Unpublished Master's Thesis, Florida State University, Tallahassee, 1967.

5. "Potentials and Issues; A.H.E.A. Members Meet to Review Professional Directions, " Practical Forecast for Home Economics, Vol. 11, Sept. , 1965, pp. 48-9, p. 152.

6. Gina Allen and Clement Martin, M.D., Intimacy (Chicago: Cowles Book Co., Inc., 1971), p. viii, prologue.

7. C.E. Avery, "Sex Education Through Rose-Colored Glasses," Education Digest, Vol. 30, Dec., 1964, pp. 9-12.

8. Patricia and Ron Deutsch, "The Truth Can Stop V.D. HI` Readers Digest, Jan., 1967, pp. 55-9. (From an article copyrighted by Parents Magazine in 1966.)

9. Public Broadcasting Service Program Information, "Widely Acclaimed 'VD Blues' Encodes on Public Television," (OB: 10-9-72 SOW #202, Esprit).

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. F. R. Wake, "Are Parents the Best Sex Educators?" The PTA Magazine,

Vol. 61, Nov., 1966, pp. 8-1C ; Ruth Wilkensen, "The Subtle Dangers in Mother-Daughter Talks About Sex, " McCalls, Vol. 93, Jan. , 1966, pp. 58, 132-5.

13. Robbins, op. cit., p. 255.

14. H. Manley, "Sex Education in the Schools," School and Community, Vol. 50, Feb. 1964, pp. 12-13.

15. H. Manley, "Sex Education; Where, When, and How It Should Be Taught," Journal of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Vol. 35, March, 1964, pp. 21-4.

16. "Sex Education: Where Does It Stand?" The Education Digest, Vol. 32, Nov. 1966, pp. 17-19.

17. Wake, ob. cit.

18. "Today's Children and Sex: What Readers Think," Changing Times, Sept., 1966, p. 22.

19. Gina Allen and Clement Martin, op. cit. p. 47.

20. Ron Whittaker, op. cit. p. 58.

21. W.R. Johnson and M. Schulz, "Sex Education Attitudes of School Administrators and School Board Members," The Journal of School Health, Vol. 36, Feb., 1966, p. 67.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. F.B. Gannon, "Sex Education: Why, Where and How?"' National Association of Secondary School Principals Bulletin, Vol. 45, Sept., 1961, p. 109.

26. Joseph Johnson and Kenneth Jones, Modern Radio Station Practices (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Co. Inc. , 1972

27. Michael Ryan, "Family Viewing Time," TV Guide, June 5, 1976, p. 8.

28. Ron Whittaker, op. cit.

29. M. I. Levine, "Zappy Sex Education," Young Children, Vol. 22, Oct., 1966, pp. 11-15.

30. Kronhausen, op. cit., p. 41.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid.

33. P. and E. Kronhausen, "Sex Education: Orphan Annie of American Schools," Phi Delta Kaplan, Vol. 43. Dec., 1961, pp. 128-32.

34. Ibid.

35. Ibid., p.131

36. Johnson and Schulz, op. cit., p. 64.

37. Shirley Ballard Reeve, Parental Attitudes Toward Sex Education In Junior High School, Unpublished Master's Theses. Florida State University, Tallahassee, 1963.

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