Original Paper

Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 193-203

First online:

Landscapes of Erotophobia: The Sexual(ized) Child in the Postmodern Anglophone West

  • Gail HawkesAffiliated withSchool of Behavioral, Cognitive and Social Science, University of New England Email author 
  • , R. Danielle EganAffiliated withGender and Sexuality Studies Program, St. Lawrence University

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The issue of ‘child sexualization’ is widely addressed in the mass media of the Anglophone West. It is a topic on which many voices, both lay and professional, pronounce upon with conviction. Almost universally the judgment is that this is a damaging and unwanted consequence of the ‘modern world’ that cannot be avoided, so that protection of ‘the child’ is the only recourse. This introduction argues that this hegemonic discourse entails unchallenged and naturalized assumptions. We identify three: the normative distinction between ‘proper’ and improper sexualization––where the former involves the staged transmission of approved knowledge from adult to child; while the latter is the consequence of a ‘free market’ in exploitative imagery and inappropriate expectations of the unprotected child in the adult world. Second, the sexually agentic child is not only missing but logically excluded. Paradoxically the very capacity essential for growing to full citizenship is denied the citizens of the future. Finally, that though ‘the child’ is deemed at risk, it is girls who are the naturalized victims within traditionally gendered framings. We develop these themes in relation to the work of the other contributors, whose work strengthens and deepens the necessary critical challenge.


Erotophobia Sexualization Childhood Agency Gender