If you take a look at any pop culture icon or rap video, you’re going to notice something striking about the women in those scenes. They’re hyper-sexualized. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that mainstream music played a pivotal role in the sexualization of women.

Everything they are wearing is meant to show off their bodies. Their lipgloss is on-point, yet also suggestive at the same time. Oh, and when it comes to mainstream music lyrics? It’s almost always sexual to some degree.

Over-sexualization is a social epidemic we’re all familiar with. 

Mainstream media has a way of getting spicy with every little detail of a female celebrity’s life. Online, women are picked apart and even deep faked for people’s sexual pleasure. Try as we might, it often feels like women can’t get a break from being judged on hotness. 

It’s an exhausting part of being female these days, but not because sexuality is wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being a sexual being. The problem with our society is that being sexy is expected of women 24/7. That’s neither pleasant nor feasible nor healthy to expect long-term. 

We often say that over-sexualization paints women in an objectifying and 2-D manner. And you know what? It’s true. Studies show that viewing women in sexual ways reduces men’s empathy towards them. It trains them to see women as sexual objects.

Though over-sexualization is an issue, there is another cultural problem that deals equal damage.

Today, the public eye is all about over-sexualization and the damage it’s doing to women. And honestly, they’re right to be concerned. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re covering this topic in its entirety. There’s another side to this issue that people aren’t talking about: desexualization. 

Desexualization, as you might have guessed, is the act of stripping a person’s sexual identity. It’s an act that forces the person into rejecting any sort of display of sexuality, often as a way to appease cultural demands for sexual purity. 

A lot of this deals with the way society sees women. You may have heard of a “Madonna-Whore Complex.” This is a psychological issue that says that women are either “pure, perfect, respectable mothers” as a Madonna or “slutty, skanky, unrespectable vixens” in the Whore category. 

When you’re dealing with someone who has a Madonna-Whore complex, there’s no in-between. They simply cannot handle the idea that women are multidimensional enough to have both sides to them. If you’re talking about the music industry, the default role people demand from women is to shove them into the “Whore” category, even if that’s not the performer’s intention. 

Desexualization is a symptom of our cultural Madonna-Whore complex, and it hurts too. 

At first glance, being desexualized in a hyper-sexual society seems like a great thing. I mean, women want a break from being sexualized and creeped on, right? Yes, but unfortunately, desexualization is not healthy, either. 

This is act of forcing women to act the “Madonna” part of the Madonna-Whore Complex. Meanwhile, oversexualization is the act of forcing women into the “Whore” part of the Madonna-Whore Complex. This means that women are still being told what to do with their sexuality by society. 

Looksism plays into this. As noted in the The Untamed World podcast with Aisha K, we still have a hard time appreciating artists in the music industry outside their looks. It’s an ongoing conversation, to say the least.

Desexualization is insidious, primarily because it’s often not noticed. 

You cannot have over-sexualization without having desexualization as a backlash effect. It’s not a mainstream phenomenon that people are willing to discuss, which is why we don’t hear about it. However, it’s pretty terrible. Here’s why:

  • Desexualization is socially-enforced slut shaming. Whenever you hear about a religious sect that demands “modesty,” you’re seeing desexualization in action. Rather than put the burden on men to control their behavior, desexualization forces the burden of guarding one’s behavior on women. Women who don’t “take responsibility” are shamed and shunned. 
  • It also encourages bad sexual education. Societies and communities that are known for desexualizing women are famous for stripping sex ed from schools. Why? Because talking about sex in an adult way removes stigma. That stigma is what keeps women in line and fearful of sex. By keeping women in the dark, it makes control easier and sex more dangerous. 
  • Being desexualized also turns sex into an awful experience. Go onto any forum which involves writing from ex-cult members, and you’ll hear about how being desexualized turned sex into a horrific, traumatic act. The idea of getting pleasure from sex is entirely foreign to many women who dealt with it. 
  • Desexualization also harms relationships. How can you have a loving relationship when having sex with your partner is something you need therapy for? How can you have emotional safety in your family if all they care about is your perceived purity? The answer is, you can’t. 

  • Both oversexualization and desexualization weaponize sexuality against women. And if you ask me, that’s really the crux of it. It’s part of the same societal sickness. You can’t have a “whore” without a “Madonna.”

    Though both issues are pervasive, a good change is coming. 

    This is all bad stuff, but there is good news on the horizon. Women have started to talk about how the sexualization of their gender is harming them. Then, it stopped being just women talking about it. People are finally talking about the way sexuality has been weaponized against women. 

    For the first time in modern history, we’re actually having a real discussion about how to broach the topic of sexuality without turning everything into a degrading, objectifying mess. Women are reclaiming their bodies, exploring themselves, and demanding equality at the sexual table. 

    If you ask us, we’re all for it. We don’t know where the conversation is going to go from here, but it’s definitely the start of something that is going to be a lot more encouraging for future generations. And at the very least, we’ll have more girls who feel ready to speak out against being shamed. 

    Listen to our episode of The Untamed World featuring Aisha K where we discuss in depth Over Sexualization in the Music Industry.