If I described a teen girl who made it big on social media for dressing and acting promiscuously, would you know what I am talking about? A girl who has been exploited by the grown people in her life into posting thirst traps and promoting flat tummy teas? Still not helping? Well, that’s exactly the problem. Social media has managed to groom a new generation into adopting promiscuous behaviours and sexualizing themselves for validation on the internet. Let’s talk about it.
For a long time, sex was considered a taboo in society. Women faced the brunt of centuries of slut shaming and sexual dissatisfaction in favour of male pleasure. The recent turn in society has now put women in charge of their sexual freedom and liberation. Women should be able to enjoy sex under their own terms without feeling pressure to perform or not perform their sexual desire. However, due to the unfiltered nature of social media and the influx of kids watching adult content online, young girls feel these messages of sexual empowerment apply to them. This has sparked the phenomenon of young people being sexual for online clout.
The problem with this is that children are encouraged and rewarded for being promiscuous online. Danielle Bregoli dropped her OnlyFans three days after turning 18, and earned $1,030,703.43 within the first six hours. This shows just how big of a market there is for “barely legal” teens in the sex work industry. The fact that there are millions of videos like these on porn sites goes to show how much of a market there is for sexualising teen girls.
Most teens aren’t watching porn and engaging in sex work. So where do they learn about sexuality and how do they form their own relationships with sex? The answer is through the media. Tv shows, movies and books for teens are written, produced and acted out by adults. Usually for kid’s shows, adults will be mindful of themes and messaging to make it appropriate for kids that age. Teens are not given that consideration, instead being put into situations that are inappropriate for their age. Shows for teens prefer to create drama to keep viewers hooked, while keeping it “relatable” so people get attached to these characters.
Shows like Euphoria, Pretty Little Liars, and Vampire Diaries will have you believe that teenage girls are very mature and calculating. Most teenaged characters in these shows are played by adults so they can film sex scenes. So that the protagonists who get with men usually double or even triple their age are equally matched. So that the relationship that culminates from that is sexy and appealing. It makes for good drama, but it’s based very little on the reality of high schoolers. Why have high schoolers be the protagonists of these stories if they don’t look, act or even talk like high schoolers?
It seems like stories that explore the “truth” of modern day high schoolers are all the rage. Writers want to create content that appeals to young adults en masse. Although these shows try to tackle serious issues, their ‘style over substance’ takes on teenage romance glamourizes sexual behaviour to teens. They also maintain the juvenile sense of humour, and the black and white nature of interpersonal relationships too. This can lead to a confusing tone, and have it hard to tell what the purpose of explicit sex scenes in said media serve. Taking out all the nuance from the complicated relationship teens have with sex can make young people think sex at that age is easy. Teens are encouraged to explore their sexuality the way adults do, without understanding the wide assortment of risks involved.
Teen dramas will have sophomore characters complaining about how lame and awful being a virgin is despite only 33% of 16 year olds actually being sexually active. Most kids before the age of 16 end up regretting their sexual encounters. Some citing it should’ve happened later, others saying not at all. These shows put so much concern around sex and romance that it can often make teens watching these shows insecure. Said teens’ characters will also complain about their sexual partners’ sexual performance, which makes zero sense. These are kids, they wouldn’t know what they want in the bedroom until later in life, and they wouldn’t make fun of someone their age for being inexperienced. It is confusing for teens to see critics and general audiences praise these shows for being “realistic” and covering “sensitive issues” while hypersexualising the young people involved. Grown adults are setting the standard for how teens should act in the media, not teens themselves.
Being sexual isn’t empowering or feminist when you are a kid. The entertainment industry is relying on teenage insecurities around sex to make money. These stories encourage young people to grow up way faster than they should, which has severe effects on the mental health of teens. Teen dramas should be more mindful of the expectations they put on the teens watching these shows. And if creators insist on making mature content that teens can’t watch with teens in it, consider why? Obviously not all teen shows, or even all teen shows are like this. Even the shows that are shouldn’t be “cancelled” or actually cancelled. Just that the themes these shows choose to explore around sex aren’t realistic for most teens or if they are, they shouldn’t be glamourized.