Sex Sells

This essay has a total of 1988 words and 8 pages.

Sex Sells


As Americans we tend to have a conditioned view toward sexuality as a normal, healthy part
of life. However, it seems that one may underestimate the power that sex has on culture,
which is evident in the many areas. Most recently discussions on a sexual nature received
extreme national prominence with the public events surrounding the Kenneth Starr
investigation and report, which focuses on the sexual aspects of the relationship between
President Bill Clinton and a former intern, Monica Lewinsky. The result was a war of
beliefs, morals and differences of cultures mixed with political manipulations. With the
increase of sexual presence in our society, it is often wondered how this increase has
affected morals and values of those who live it. Sex is everywhere--not just limited to
the bedroom, but to the television, movies, billboards, office buildings and almost every
fragment of modern culture. Around the turn of the twentieth century, open discussion and
study of sex was well on its way. Sexual/cultural pioneer, Sigmund Freud believed that
sexuality was tightly woven in all persons, present from birth. His breakthrough thinking
affected social practices and was instrumental in breaking the "moral fog that had
enshrouded sexuality for most of the nineteenth century did not begin to lift until after
the First World War" (Janus 1993). By analyzing modern culture, a person can accurately
determine the effects of the sexual revolution and how it has led to the alterations or
evolution of personal, moral and ethical principals.


Where do we get our morals and values? Character education was what took place in school
and society in the past. This drilling of acceptable social conventions seemed to
“contain” our culture for many years. In modern years society has shifted to the
"decision-making approach" (Kilpatrick 1993). This approach takes many forms, sometimes as
a course in itself, sometimes as a strategy in sex education classes, sometimes as a unit
in civics or social sciences--it has set the tone for modern moral education in public and
even private schools. "The shift from character education to the decision-making model was
begun with the best of intentions. The new approach was meant to help students to think
more independently and critically about values" (Kilpatrick 1993). Followers of this
approach claimed that a young person would be more committed to self-discovered values
than to ones that were simply handed down by adults. That was the hope, but the actual
effect of the shift has been quite different. For students, it has meant confusion about
moral values: learning to question values they have scarcely acquired, unlearning values
taught at home, and concluding that questions of right and wrong are always changing with
the influence of society. We live in a sexual world, but Americans have been slow to fully
acknowledge its enormous impact. Among those interviewed in the Janus Report who were 18
to 26 years old, 21% of the men and 15% of the women had had sexual intercourse by age 14;
a small percentage of them had had their first intercourse before age 10. "It ought to be
the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people." (Noonan 1999) This statement
accurately portrays moral education today. "The Day America Told the Truth," a 1990 survey
of American beliefs and values contains this scene from a California high school. The
setting, Friday afternoon and the students are leaving a class in “social living.” The
teacher's parting words are, “have a great weekend. Be safe. Buckle up. Just say no. And
if you can't say 'No,' then use a condom! (Kilpatrick 1993) Although the teacher in this
example gives a nod in the direction of abstinence, his approach is basically of the
"responsible sex" variety. Sex is an image that Americans have grown accustomed too. Sex
is everything. If you're good looking, then you're having sex. If you're sexy, then you're
having sex. If you're having sex, you're popular, and people are more likely to buy stuff
from your company if you show people having sex. Sex sells. Sex sells cigarettes. Sex
sells cars. Sex sells clothes, alcohol and vacuum cleaners.


One way that a breakdown of sexual restraint hurts society is the educational sphere.
There is abundant evidence that the more sexually active students do poorly in school and
tend to drop out more frequently (Noonan 1999). For all of the teenage girls, who drop out
of school, half of them do so because of pregnancy. But that figure only suggests one
small aspect of the problem. The constant distraction caused by worries about sex and
about relationships takes a tool on schoolwork. Dieting has become an unfortunate cultural
phenomenon, especially for women and girls, whose self-image is often closely linked with
their body image. Eating disorders are more common in girls because they believe it's
their role in society to be sexy. Numerous studies have been conducted to determine the
history of sexual abuse in eating disorders patients, and the findings have been
controversial. "The figures range from 7% to 74%, with most studies showing that between
20-69% of anorexics and bulimics have been abused" (Janus 1993). It is important to note,
however that not everyone who has been sexually abused develops anorexia and not all
anorexics have been sexually abused. For many survivors, anorexia can also serve as a way
to make their bodies less desirable to potential perpetrators. In one sense, mature
adolescents deny their sexuality by returning to a prepubescent state, developing
amenorreah or loss of menstruation, which is one of the criteria for diagnosing anorexia.


Unfortunately, teachers have been reluctant to discuss sex in absolute moral terms,
leaving students with the impression that it's purely as subjective matter. It turns out
that when adults confront teens over sexual misbehaviors, a frequent response is simply,
"I didn't know it was wrong." Everyone is a product of his or her culture. We tend to
conform to cultural expectations, even if not perfectly. Our present culture sends out
confused and misleading messages about sex-messages that, in the long run, may cause more
harm than good. A former secretary of education observed,"I have never had a parent tell
me that he or she would be offended boy a teacher telling a class that it is better to
postpone sex. Or that marriage is the best setting for sex, and in which to have and raise
children. On the contrary, my impression is that the overwhelming majority of parents
would gratefully welcome help in transmitting such values." (Kilpatrick 1993) The long
history of sexually transmitted diseases has made caution in sex one of the facts of life.
In the late 1980s, the AIDS epidemic made caution in sex a fact of life or death. It was
no longer a moral issue. When AIDS surfaced as a national problem, the sexually active
momentarily panicked. The enormous tensions generated by these devastating STD’s made
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