When I asked my pre-teen daughter's pediatrician about a good way to broach the subject of sex, he told me: emphasize love. It seems love has lost its status, become disconnected from the idea of sex. Today, scientists who follow an "organic" approach consider love a biochemical reaction that guarantees the preservation of the species, or, in a more psychoanalytical view, a human invention as important as "the wheel, marriage and medicine." In either case, love is a by-product of sex and related to physical appearance. The concept of the perfect body is the newest worldwide pathology.

The new woman cannot be merely independent and a good professional. She must above all have an attractive body and be forever young. From 40 to 60, it is difficult to judge a woman's age. Wrinkles? Only if you're a young woman. At 20 we still allow one or two smile lines. But after 40, no way. Wrinkles, along with obesity, are our eighth deadly sin.

In plastic surgery, Brazilians take second place only to Americans. We do liposuction the way we go to the hair stylist. The popularization of plastic surgery is such that we don't even weigh the risks involved. In the more remote areas of the country, some tourist agencies promote trips to the capital that consist of lipo in the morning, shopping in the afternoon. You return home the same day, lipoed and ready for dinner with your husband and kids.

But it's sex, not beauty, that heads our expectations. Everything is sex, and everything is at the service of sex. Super-saturation of the sexual theme lets no one, not even children, escape. Sex and seduction are embedded in the backbone of every Brazilian child's life. Gymkhanas, dodge ball, and comic books have been replaced by provocative and erotic dances that hurl children into an adult world where flawless, seductive, blond women are the heroines of a new century. We are horrified to see children working in sugarcane fields in the Brazilian Northeast. But we find it cute when our children shimmy like adults.

Consider the "bottle dance." In it, the woman sways back and forth, swinging her hips and contorting her body as she moves up and down over the neck of a bottle in an erotically charged performance:

She says she gives her all in the samba
I've seen how she swings her hips in the samba
She says she gives her all in the samba
I've seen how she swings her hips in the samba
She likes dancing the samba
She saw the mouth of the bottle
She couldn't wait and went out to dance
She rubs against the bottle's mouth
She's over the bottle's mouth
She descends onto the bottle's mouth
Down she goes, down a little more
Down she goes, s-l-o-w-ly down
Now she's rising from the bottle's mouth
Up she comes, s-l-o-w-ly up

These days, the bottle dance is de rigueur at any children's party, and middle-class mothers applaud as their six- and seven-year-old daughters, learning the steps from children's programs, begin to wiggle their hips.

The actress Xuxa pioneered the eroticizing of children's television. At the start of the 1980s, her programs launched a colorful, fast-paced format replete with dance and libido. With the advent of Xuxa, Brazilian girls of all social classes gave up ribbons and braids and began wearing miniskirts, hot pants, knee-high boots and tons of makeup. It was she who initiated both the fashion for children's programs in the following decades and the commercial exploitation of the market by the record, cosmetic, and clothing industries, among others. In 1991, Forbes listed her among the world's wealthiest individuals.

Xuxa's disciple Angélica headed for some time the list of those profiting most from their image. She endorsed over 250 products, including sandals, dolls, cereals, games, school supplies and anything of interest to children. Following in the footsteps of Xuxa and Angélica, the children's show host Eliana advertises her dolls, games and other products on her shows.

It is a cash cow. In the United States, underage wannabes pay from 500 to 600 dollars to enter children's beauty contests. In Brazil, if you ask your little girl the classic question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?", don't expect answers like "doctor," "veterinarian" or "teacher." According to recent studies, eight out of ten want to be models.

The songs of Xuxa, Angélica and Eliana that enlivened kids' parties in the 1980s and 1990s were "concerned with children's education" and taught them (using the products they later endorsed in commercials) to brush their teeth, go to bed on time, do their homework, and take their baths ­ all rather "relevant" content in a country with 17.5 million illiterates and 44 million who live in abject poverty. Ten years ago, we never suspected that, a short time later, we would miss Xuxa, her disciples, and her educational silliness.

In 1995 a Bahian group called Segura o Tchan became a national hit, and its dancer, Carla Perez, "the blonde hurricane," the new queen of children's television. Her hip-swinging dancing style, thrusting her gluteus maximus at the camera, made jaws drop nationwide. Everything in her way of moving was seduction and sex, and all that was missing in her mating dance was a partner. But she didn't need one, for she copulated by herself for the viewer, swaying, rising and plunging like a sex goddess. At the time I was working on my novel Inferno, which relates the saga of a drug trafficker, so I went to visit a shantytown in Rio de Janeiro. The sound track of the community was the hit "Segura o Tchan," and along the dirty pathways with their open sewers, I saw lots of young girls imitating Carla Perez. They wore Carla Perez clogs, which had become a kind of national epidemic, and were dressed and made up in provocative clothing. In the streets, these girls were already executing sensual acrobatics of which many adult women with a reasonable amount of sexual experience are incapable.

Being blonde like Carla Perez was also part of that new pathology. I can't remember ever having seen as many blondes as when I visited the Rocinha shantytown. Later I saw that the phenomenon was not merely local; Brazil, a country where the majority of the population is black, had turned into some weird replica of Finland. Today we have more blondes than all of Europe.

"Become a Carla Perez for $8,000." So reads the headline of an article on "the blonde." "Breast implants: $2,000; skin treatments: $1,000; liposuction of hips and abdomen: $2,000; nasal plastic surgery: $1,350; treatment for fat and cellulite: $1,650. Total: $8,000, plus upkeep." The photo showed Carla Perez on all fours, in bikini and high heels, on a double bed. With success came an offer for her own show. Carla Perez quickly launched her CD for children, "Cotton Candy", and today she outstrips Angélica in the sale of products bearing her name.

But we don't stop there. Tiazinha, a sadomasochist personality wearing a mask and brandishing a whip, created a program for teenagers. In this show, Tiazihna, in a bra and panties, menacingly asks an adolescent (who happens to be lying on a bed), "What's the capital of Australia?" If he gets it wrong, Tiazinha depilates a portion of the poor youth's body.

Next came the version for younger children. Here, Tiazinha is a kind of thief and bandit. The girls, all Tiazinhas, are teased by the boys, who call them big butts and run while the girls try to catch them. A kiss is the boy's punishment. Tiazinha abandoned the lingerie and whip for this program, and it proved to be short-lived.

In addition to Tiazinha, there are others who enjoy tremendous success with children's shows in Brazil. True, they don't last long, and it's almost impossible to define them as women. They seem more like fragments, pieces of bodies, breasts, hips, muscles, rubbed in our faces until a newer, fresher piece of meat is discovered.

As for the songs that these blondes sing or lip-sync, one can hear adult codes inserted into a juvenile world. Adults pass along their erotic messages in a child's language. Both the rhythms and the lyrics are easily memorized and create a playful atmosphere.

Foo, foo, I'm going to get you
Shh, shh, shh
Please tell me that it's
That it's Big Tiger, pussycat
Who hunts the little foo-foo
But please, Big Tiger, tell me you wanna
I want your mouth kissing my mouth
I want your body close to mine
And what else, Big Tiger?
That I only do in the dark
I'm not afraid, I fulfill your desires
At the moment of love, you can come, but come without fear . . .
Stop, stop, stop, turn out the lights
Foo-foo . . . Don't be afraid, I'm going to get you

There are indeed phenomena to blame for this deformation. Social differences, the disintegration of the family, the permissiveness of certain habits and customs, and the important place of television in children's lives – all of these are culprits. Currently, in Brazil a child spends an average of four hours a day in front of the T.V., soaking in every kind of sexual information.

You don't have to be a doctor or specialist to know that this early overdose of sexual information sets off a hormonal explosion with grave consequences. Girls who become pregnant at thirteen and fourteen are one sad example of that reality. In the year 2000, one million teenagers gave birth. This means, among other things, that these girls lost opportunities for study and professional development, and of course this fuels the fire of poverty. It is also difficult to believe that the expansion of networks of pedophilia and child prostitution are unrelated to the phenomenon.

And to think that, some time ago, I became annoyed when my four-year-old daughter, along with all her schoolmates, wanted to watch "Chaves," a children's series produced in Mexico whose protagonist is a hungry child, eight years old, who doesn't know who his parents are and lives in a barrel on a street where all the residents are friends. The other characters in the series are as poor and ignorant as "Chaves," and their monotonous lives and their ingenuous behavior are the raw material of humor.

Today I look upon "Chaves" with favor, and in it I recognize the innocence and purity that no longer exist in the universe of children. I even recommend it when I'm asked what's worth watching on television. True, it was bad, but today it's good. Watch "Chaves," children. Love is everything.

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Patrícia Melo is a leading figure in contemporary Brazilian literature. Her 1995 novel The Killer (Bloomsbury) won France's Prix Femina and Deux Océans, Germany's Deutscher Krimi Preis, and was listed in World Literature Today as one of the 1990s' best Brazilian novels. The Killer has since been adapted for the screen, winning the prize for best foreign film at the San Francisco Film Festival. Her most recent novel, Inferno (Bloomsbury), received Brazil's Jabuti prize and is short-listed for Britain's Independent Foreign Fiction prize. A playwright and screenwriter as well, Melo lives in São Paulo, where she is completing her next novel.

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