Sex in the media is nothing new but on Monday Vanity Fair published an article with pictures of tween star Miley Cyrus. Cyrus, better known as Hannah Montana was pictured with smoky eye makeup, red lipstick and tousled hair with a blanket seductively wrapped around her chest exposing her bare back. The sultry, sexy look immediately caught the attention of the media and Hannah Montana fans. The photo certainly does not exude the innocence that parents and fans so admire about Cyrus. This certainly isn't the first time that young stars have been seen in provocative poses. Just look at Britney Spears, she was only 16 when she danced around in a sexy school girl outfit for "Baby One More Time."
The media is constantly bombarding us with images of sex and it seems no age is too young to sell it. What shocks me about this particular photo is not the medias exploitation of another young star but the fact that Cyrus' parents were present at the photo shoot and did nothing. They somehow found it acceptable for their daughter to wear next to nothing and as Cyrus said herself "I think it’s really artsy...It wasn’t in a skanky way.… And you can’t say no to Annie [Leibovitz]. She’s so cute. She gets this puppy-dog look and you’re like, O.K."*
Here we have a star whose main audience is girls ages 8-13. Girls that look up to her as a role model and who are now seeing these images that say it's ok to be sexual. As they grow up the images of their age group will only get worse with television shows such as Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill showing high school students having casual sex and losing their virginity in the backseat of a moving car.
And all of this is happening while youth are being taught abstinence-only education in schools. Currently the only type of funding for sex education is for abstinence-only-until-marriage. Three major federal funding streams give money to states and community organizations for abstinence-only-until-marriage education which teaches that marriage is "only a legal union between one man and one woman as a husband and wife" and that "sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects" as stated by the federal 8 point definition of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.
The government is telling youth to wait until marriage while the media tells them to go for it. Our youth are hearing two messages that contradict each other. Youth are not being given the tools they need to protect themselves if they do decide to have sex, which 70% do by the time they are 18. We need to stop sending mixed messages to our youth and start teaching them about all aspects of sexuality and how to protect themselves and their partners (of whichever gender they choose) so they will be able to make positive decisions in their lives.
The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on April 23rd titled “Domestic Abstinence-Only Programs: Assessing the Evidence”. Of those present the majority felt that abstinence-only programs do not work and are harmful to our nations youth. The American Public Health Association and U.S. Institute of Medicine both testified that abstinence-only programs have not decreased the rate of pregnancies or STD's. Much of the testimony also discussed the need for comprehensive sexuality education programs. The Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act (H.R. 1653, S. 972) would provide funding to states for comprehensive sex education programs. REAL would still teach abstinence as the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and STD's but it would also teach the benefits of contraception and protection, as well as encourage family discussions.
It is time for us to take a stand on this issue and let the government know that we will not accept abstinence-only programs and demand comprehensive sexuality education programs like the REAL Act.
*"Artsy" is the new word for "classy." "Do I look skanky in this outfit? -No, you look really classy!" "Posing for Playboy was great, really artsy." If you have to say it, it's not classy or artsy.