We Start Hearing Lewd Comments At An Early Age. They Stole Our Childhoods And Our Bodies
Commenting on the body, inappropriate insinuations or leering glances. The sexualization of children can create a traumatic burden that we carry into adulthood.
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"My first memories are from around 4 to 5 years old. I remember my mother's father commenting on my breasts and theorizing if they would one day reach the same size as my grandmothers," one respondent told Refresher. Sexualization, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is "the inappropriate imposition of sexuality through the objectification, overvaluation, or emphasis of appearance and/or sexual behavior, regardless of the presence of physical sexual assault."
Children most often first encounter sexualization in a "soft" form through the media - sexualized images on television, magazines, video games, advertisements or on the Internet support narrow and unrealistic standards of physical beauty and sexual interest. According to SHine SA, women are more likely to be sexually objectified while men are raised in a society that celebrates sexually aggressive masculinity and deems it the norm to demean women.
At the same time, according to experts, sexualization is the result of an obvious blurring of the boundaries between children and adults. The results of the survey, which the Refresher editorial team shared on various platforms, including its Instagram, showed that the sexualization of children is a societal phenomenon. Children, mostly girls, come to contact with it as soon as the age of five. However, it is most often present in childhood between the ages of 11 and 13, when puberty occurs for many. At the same time, sexualization is very often committed by those who should be supporting children - parents, grandparents, teachers or friends.
The experience of our bodies being "owned" by everyone but us intensifies with adolescence - as if the fact that a girl grows breasts means that she is an adult and can be treated as an adult by those around her. This will affect one's understanding of sexuality for a very long time.
"You're growing into a woman!"
One of the manifestations of this issue is inappropriate comments with sexual undertones. Respondents in our survey most often mentioned comments regarding the body. Allusions to growing breasts, sexual suggestions or catcalling are mainly experienced by teenage girls on a daily basis.
Countless teenagers carry a similar trauma with them into adulthood. It was very often committed by men even two generations older. Deliberately ask the girls and women in your neighborhood if someone has ever yelled obscenities at them from a car, at a swimming pool, on a tram, at a bus stop, in a housing estate, at school, in a shop, in broad daylight, at night. The answers probably (unfortunately) won't surprise you. Unpleasant feelings, however, can often be present even at home among the closest - where the child should feel safe.
"I first encountered sexualization in my very early childhood. My first memories are from around 4 to 5 years old. I remember how my mother's father commented on my breasts and theorized if they would one day reach the same size as my grandmothers," Aneta confided about her experience.
Another encounter with sexualization, which she perceives as a formative life event, came a few years later. The memory is still very painful for her to this day: "I was about 8 years old and we were visiting with my mother and her new partner. Overall, I had a good time and mostly communicated with one person who was nice to me and showed interest in me. Suddenly my mother yelled at me not to flirt. I believe this incident set the stage for my future sexual abuse. The abuser was the same person my mother said I 'flirted' with at the age of 8. I was just 14 when the abuse started. I think the mother knew about the abuse, but she considered me the cause of the whole situation and treated me as a grown woman who is the lover of an engaged man. To this day, this topic is taboo in our family."
Veronika also shared a traumatic experience from her childhood. "When I was 13, we were on vacation with my family and friends. We visited an amusement park where the trampoline was only for children under 12 years old. I was the only child of thirteen. The father from the other family was in a pretty drunken state at the time and he said, 'It's okay, you can jump on me if you want.' He said it in front of the rest of the family," she said, adding that she felt very embarrassed and angry.
If it weren't for the Internet, I probably wouldn't know what and when I have the "right" to call sexual harassment. I would just get eaten away by the shame and the feeling that my body is in the public domain.
However, a number of female respondents had a negative experience with "family acquaintances", i.e. primarily with their fathers' friends. "I was with my dad, his friends and their children in the mountains. I was about 9-10 years old. We went to breakfast and I had a pastry with whipped cream. Dad wasn't at the table, and one of his friends started commenting on how I was eating it. It was all in the sense that I won't get lost in life, that one day my partner will be extremely lucky, that I can open my mouth well and about how the pastry fits nicely in there. They laughed terribly at it, I only partially understood it and it made me uncomfortable," Eliška described. "After a while it all dawned on me and I'm sick of it. I was a small child and I don't understand that such a thing would even occur to them," she added.
It often starts "innocently". A grandmother refers to her grandson as a "heartbreaker", an aunt adamantly tells her seven-year-old niece that she is "marriage-ready" or the new father's friends joke about the need to get a shotgun for her daughter's suitors. We must not forget clothes with inscriptions that sexualize even newborns. "I love boobies (Like my daddy)," is written, for example, on one baby's bodysuit, whose photo went viral on social media a few years ago. However, by accepting thinking about children as "little adults", society also accepted the traumas that are born before a person is even able to name their sexuality.
Instead of "defending" me, the grown women around me began to show "hate" and were jealous of the attention I was getting. This was more disappointing to me than the very unwanted attention of older men.
An intervention, for when the child is not able to deal on their own
According to experts, childhood sexualization is in many cases an intervention that can change the natural speed of sexual maturation in most children. As mass communication expert Barrie Gunter points out, children's attention is then unnecessarily drawn to sexual topics, encouraging them to mature faster so they can cope with the social pressures and risks that may result from this intervention.
According to psychologists and sexologists, premature sexualization of children can later manifest itself in psychological problems or sexual dysfunctions. However, one of the consequences can also be frequent changes of partners, earlier marriages and frequent divorces in adulthood.
At first I accepted being an object and had sex with anyone who showed interest, even though I didn't like it and it hurt. I'm currently having trouble getting in the mood and I'm struggling with my libido, I constantly feel like sex sucks.
Hand in hand with premature sexualization, arise traumas, which sooner or later can be reflected in the adult sex life of the victim. They show, for example, a dislike for sex or distrust of older men. "I felt like a thing, not a person, and it later reflected my attitude towards sex," a woman, who wished to remain anonymous, described in the questionnaire.
I feel that most men see me primarily as a sex object.
At the same time, a number of respondents mentioned a shift from excessive sexual libido to zero desire for sex, or even to an aversion to any intimate touch. "I felt that I was predestined for a certain role in a relationship with my appearance, that I should be sexually flighty and interesting with my provocative appearance and behavior," said Tereza. Lucie, for example, agrees with her in the questionnaire: "Basically, I got the impression that I am a sexual object, so that's fine and I should want it that way. This led to me having sex earlier than I wanted to, with men much older. I did things I didn't like because I thought that was the way it should be done.'
For a long time I attached excessive importance to my appearance. I still do it. As if being 'hot enough' somehow reflects my worth.
This intervention often represents such a big scar on the soul that the adolescent creates a block from it towards their own sexuality and their own body. Throughout their childhood, they listen to others appropriate their bodies and find it difficult to take them back. Sexualization often affects the way girls and boys identify themselves and how they assess their own worth. According to experts, it can cause a whole range of emotions - anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Teens exposed to sexualization at a young age may also experience low self-esteem, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.
"Sexual objectification dehumanizes girls and women, which contributes to a culture of rape and violence against women," American lawyer Carrie N. Baker summarized in her publication.
People cope with trauma through therapy and love. Some got over it
Some male and female respondents (roughly 16%) had to seek professional help in adulthood because of the sexualization they had experienced (or because of sexualization as one of the factors). Others found support in their partners, education, sharing, self-realization and self-knowledge, meditation, but perhaps also in feminism. For example, respondent Andrea realized over time that other people's comments did not matter to her. It's not her fault that unwanted comments are going around, so she doesn't have to feel embarrassed or change anything about herself.
I don't think it left a big mark on me, it's more that now as an adult I'm annoyed that those guys allowed themselves to do that to me as a child. I've never had more consequences than a few minutes of shock, but I find it so disgusting that I can't even describe it.
However, many respondents were never able to come to terms with the experience of sexualization. In some responses, it was also repeated that "time healed the wounds" on the soul - or that with the coming "adult" responsibilities, they did not have time to "heal their inner child". Therefore, they put it behind them and displaced the trauma.
In addition to the "strengthening of the position" of one's own body, which was mentioned by Andrea, for example, a person often realizes in retrospect how badly those around them treated them and their sexuality. And that realization is perhaps even worse than all the bad experiences. Even after years - or decades - a person does not have to know how to deal with various situations when someone appropriated their body without their (conscious) consent. We cannot erase the pain our younger selves had to endure.
But I know one thing, your body is only yours.
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