Quite recently there has been a major scandal in the media over pictures of a young Disney star (Miley Cyrus). The star, who is 15 years old appeared in some sort of fashion magazine where one of the pictures is of her showing a bare back and holding a sheet to cover her front. She is clearly not nude in any of the pictures. Critics were outraged. The pictures, they said sexualized the star and so were nearly pornographic. They claimed that the stars fans, younger females, would draw improper conclusions about their own behavior from the pictures. More thoughtful critics pointed out that the mass media already portrays young females as sexual beings and this picture was simply part of that. Defenders of the star and the photographer (a famous celebrity photographer) pointed out that the format of the picture in question was classic - going back even to classical paintings, and the intention was not "sexual." Still, faced with the apparent public outrage, the Disney studio and the girls parents apologized or blamed the photographer and are now hoping that the scandal will simply pass by.
It seems to me that most of the public reaction to these pictures was either incredibly naive or very hypocritical. Even a "sheltered" young teen aged female must know that she is a sexual being after all of the changes she goes through during puberty. She might not yet think of herself as sexy though. The responsibility for that lands on the society. Still, in my many years of teaching high school it seems to me that girls come easily to the understanding that they are sexual beings. The tricky part for public morals is how to handle the reality of these girls who are, because of biology, sexual beings while they exist in a society that is at once obsessed with sex as primarily sexual activity and while society is unwilling to suggest that anyone might value virginity or chastity for any reason. One session with sixteen year-olds in a religion class produced the pointed observation that lots of adults obviously do not practice what they preach (sexual activity within a loving marriage) sexually. And that observation is quite true and does a lot to explain the ambivalent attitudes seen regarding these controversial photos.