What is sexualisation?

Sexualisation can take lots of forms and can look different in different circumstances. We really like the definition that the American Psychological Association use. They say that sexualisation is when:

1. a person’s value comes only from their sexual appeal or behaviour, to the exclusion of other characteristics


2. a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy


3. a person is sexually objectified – that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making;


4. sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

If any one of these statements is true, then sexualisation is a problem but we typically see a number of these happen at the same time. For young people, the biggest problem is often number four - sexuality being imposed, inappropriately, on young people.

It's really important to remember that almost everyone has an interest in sex and has their own sexuality and that this is totally normal. Sexualisation is an issue because it imposes adult sexuality and harmful sexual stereotypes on young people. Zero Tolerance say that "increased self-objectification can impair girls’ concentration, lead to depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders and diminished ability to form healthy sexual relationships when older. Boys may have distorted concepts and expectations about girls and women. Research has also discovered links between sexualisation of young people and violence – sexualisation can lead to more acceptable attitudes to violence, increased sexual harassment and to child sexual abuse."

Where does sexualisation of young people happen?

Everywhere! Sexualisation often happens at a societal level - this means that it's normal to see people, often women and girls, being sexualised in our daily lives, especially in the media. It's really common to see women being objectified and judged solely on their appearance in newspapers, magazines, on tv, in films, music videos and adverts.

One of the big questions is; are we used to seeing men in the same way? Check out The Experiment below:

So what does this mean?

Inappropriate sexualisation is a massive issue, not only because of all the negative effects we talked about above that it can have on individuals but because of the influence these images have on society. We asked young people in the Borders what messages they thought young girls and boys were growing up with because of sexualised images.

From our Scottish Young People Create Change (2016) event young people in the Borders commented on the ‘dehumanisation’ of women and girls stemming from ‘sexualisation’, objectifying and stereotyping of women. They felt there were expectations of how a girl or boy should behave.

Sexualisation is an issue for us because sexualised images show an incredibly tiny part of what human sexuality looks like but tell us that this is what it should be for everyone. These messages tell us that everyone should look one way in order to be considered sexy or beautiful, they tell us that girls and boys, women and men must act and feel a certain way in order to be happy and they allow big companies to make lots of money from our sexuality. They rely on old fashioned and unrealistic gender stereotypes. They also promote unrealistic ideas of how bodies should look and how people should behave, particularly sexually. All of these issues can lead to big problems for individuals and for people in relationships.