[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/06/vanityfair.292.320.jpg caption="The photo of Miley Cyrus in the June 2008 issue of Vanity Fair taken by Annie Leibovitz that has everyone talking. (Annie Leibovitz exclusively for Vanity Fair)" width=292 height=320]
President, Center for the Advancement of Women
The Miley Cyrus debate was bare in more than one way. Arguing over whether the 15-year-old’s Vanity Fair photo spread constitutes a blight on wholesomeness or a publicity stunt competed with Rev. Wright as last week’s hot topic.
Celebrity pundits vented their shock on the airwaves, and in newsprint and blogs, while “experts” offered parents tips on how to discuss the consequences of bad decisions, in this case resulting from Miley’s nude back.
Missing from the commotion was the glaring opportunity to confront the double standard for girls’ sexuality with a healthy discussion about responsible sexual development among our adolescents.
Britney Spears caused a similar controversy with even more revealing photos during her early teen years. Americans reacted in collective horror when Brandi Chastain, in exuberant victory after scoring the winning goal against China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final, removed her shirt to reveal her sports bra to a worldwide Olympic audience.
Today, with the U.S. continuing to lead developed countries in the incidence of teen pregnancy and one out of four teenagers infected with a sexually transmitted disease, the evidence is clear that the public dialogue about sexuality continues to be dominated by pop culture. The time has long passed to change the equation.
There is an important sexual dimension to wholesomeness that’s being left unaddressed by parents, educators and the media. Human integrity isn’t about casting moral judgments; it’s about knowledge as the foundation for the exercise of personal responsibility. At the beginning of the 21st Century, we should finally leave behind the hypocritical morality of the Victorians to face up to the incontrovertible reality that sexual development is inherent to human life. Yes, even Miley Cyrus is a sexual being.
The Bush Administration and Congress have bowed to political pressure from the right wing to advance taxpayer support for abstinence-only “sex education.” The problem is that that is not responsible education about a fundamental element of development – sexuality. We delude ourselves into believing that just saying “no” will dampen sexual precociousness. And then along comes a naked adolescent backside and we slide backward into sanctimonious rebukes, instead of seizing the opportunity for a teachable moment. Our children deserve better.
Sexual development starts before birth and stays with us to the grave. It requires educated parents and a supportive community. When talking to children about sexuality:
Remember parents are their children’s primary sexuality educators. Start in early childhood and give as much age-appropriate information as possible.
Filed under: Faye Wattleton
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