Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t help but notice a disturbing trend over the last few decades: the increasing sexualization of children.

From birth, kids are bombarded with sexual messages through every conceivable medium: television, the Internet, billboards, magazines, books, posters, newspapers – you name it. Blatant or subtle, sexualization has become background noise, the “elevator music” of American life.

Walking into clothing stores is downright disturbing. Remember when Abercrombie & Fitch marketed thong underwear targeted toward little girls with “eye candy” and “wink wink” printed on them? While the outcry convinced A&F they should stop pitching this stuff, let’s face it – they didn’t dream it up out of thin air. They wouldn’t have featured kiddy thongs if they didn’t feel there was a market for it. “The underwear for young girls was created with the intent to be lighthearted and cute,” the company assured everyone. “Any misrepresentation of that is purely in the eye of the beholder.” The company thereby reduced the concerns of horrified parents to the level of dirty-minded old men.

And I remember in 2006 when I read about an English company marketing – I kid you not – pole-dancing kits for 4-to-6-year-old girls, with the instructions, “Unleash the sex kitten inside … simply extend the Peekaboo pole inside the tube, slip on the sexy tunes and away you go! … Soon you’ll be flaunting it to the world and earning a fortune in Peekaboo Dance Dollars.”

After facing a hue-and-cry from revolted parents, the company quickly withdrew it from the toy department and remarketed it as … a “fitness accessory.” For kids. Uh-huh.

Child sexualization isn’t found only in the realm of merchandising. The education industry is even guiltier.

The indoctrination taking place in school is nothing short of disgusting. Rather than concentrating on reading and writing, math and science, history and geography, students are instructed from kindergarten on the variations in human sexuality, encouraged to choose their gender du jour, and otherwise spoon-fed stimuli far beyond their capacities to comprehend.

It should come as no surprise that Planned Parenthood has an active role in what is euphemistically called “reproductive health services” in middle schools and high schools. With teens not just expected, but actively encouraged to be sexually active, Planned Parenthood stands in the wings to relieve girls of their unplanned “tissue” while refusing to counsel them about any repercussions such as psychological trauma or the increased risk of cancer.

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And, as we’ve recently learned, sexualization of children is helping Planned Parenthood improve its bottom line.

Then of course there are dingbats like Judith Levine who publish such trash as “Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex.” Ms. Levine – who, let the record show, has no children – argues “Sex is a wonderful, crucial part of growing up, and children and teens can enjoy the pleasures of the body and be safe, too” and believes the “sexual politics of fear” is what is harmful to minors.

“Sexuality is not the same as sexualization,” notes this article. “Sexuality evolves in children as they develop a healthy curiosity and growing understanding of their bodies. Sexualization occurs when someone’s sense of their own value is based solely on sex appeal or that individual is held to narrow standards of attractiveness, says the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, which issued reports in 2007 and 2010. … Sexualization, experts say, devalues accomplishment, intelligence and character.”

This sexualization of children is blatant and widespread – but at what cost? Does early sexualization lead to happiness, confidence, healthy minds, healthy bodies and solid marriages?

One of the consequences of this sexualized culture is the ability to separate sex from procreation. Once upon a time, sex was considered a grave and serious undertaking – which is why it was best expressed within the bounds of marriage, where the consequences of sex had the best chance of a solid foundation. But today, sex is treated as nothing more than an unthinking recreational activity on par with eating ice cream or getting a pedicure.

Children of both genders are urged to “explore their sexuality” and experiment. Girls are told this is “empowering.” The natural consequences of this empowerment are sucked into a sink as unimportant clumps of cells, then the girl is told to return to her (cough) normal life, and the cycle starts again.

So what’s wrong with early sexualization? Since we can no longer just let kids be kids (and instead have to turn them into raunchy little mini-adults), what are the consequences of this early sexualization? I pay particular attention to the effects on girls since we have daughters and no sons.

In contrast to the “empowerment” bleat put out by feminists trying to justify their slutty behavior, sexualization teaches girls they’re not worth much more than the sum of their body parts. Forget what’s between their ears – the only thing that’s important is what’s between their legs. Anything it takes to attract a sex partner – makeup, clothing, behavior, language – becomes the focus of sexualization. Rather than learning to express themselves with their unique talents, gifts, interests or skills, girls are encouraged to flaunt their bodies.

The inevitable result, of course, is early sexual activity – long long before a girl is mentally or emotionally equipped to handle it. And contrary to what the feminists say, sex for girls has far more psychological impact than it does for boys. A succession of cheap hookups, far from engendering confidence, beats down the self-image of girls and young women, making them less able to form healthy long-term bonds in marriage.

“There’s no sex without consequence, even if pregnancy is not one of the consequences,” said Galen Institute President Grace-Marie Turner. “The incidents of sexually transmitted diseases will increase. The sense of responsibility for these young women, their ability to have longer-term relationships later in life (will be threatened).”

So what is the solution to early sexualization? There is very little parents can do to fight it culturally; but there is a great deal they can do to fight it within their own homes. It’s one of the many reasons I urge parents to homeschool their children. Public schools are one of the most notorious cauldrons of child sexualization, encompassing both curricula and peer pressure.

But public school attendance can result in balanced kids as long as parents are vigilant and proactive, rather than passive and accepting of societal standards. Some friends who raised three publicly schooled sons to young adulthood always taught their boys the pitfalls of sexualization. The result is three young men with high standards and healthy attitudes toward sex. The important factor here is parental vigilance.

In contrast to Judith Levin’s attitude that protecting children from sex is “perilous,” in fact endless research has shown the opposite is true: Shoving sex at children at too young an age, and expecting them to be equipped to handle the physical, emotional and psychological fallout, is dangerous beyond belief.

Protect your children. Don’t sacrifice them to the sex gods.

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