Since the U.S. seems to be having some sort of anti-sex conservative revival (not that this wasn’t a thing there before, but it’s publicized in a big way with the election coming up), I’ve been thinking a lot about the way sex is portrayed in the media. Right now I particularly want to focus on television, because I feel some welcome changes are finally being made.
A few weeks back my roommate and I were watching Degrassi Junior High on Netflix for a couple of laughs. It was made at the end of the 80s, therefore is absolutely hilarious now because it is so outdated. Of all the ridiculous stereotypes shown, I remember one in particular: the pretty, ditzy girl who received a great deal of male attention in the form of kisses on the cheek. This was portrayed as scandalous and inappropriate. But let’s face it, even in the 80s there were teenagers as young as Junior High age did more than kissing each other on the cheek.
Television can be a reflection of the actual culture we live in; however, I find it also portrays the type of society people want to live in or think we should. That’s why there are television shows galore where the first kiss is melodramatic and sex among teenagers (if it’s portrayed at all) seems to set off an atomic bomb of drama and consequence. People reminisce about their formative experiences as teenagers, yet they don’t want their own children to be having sex. I grew up watching shows just like that. Although, I finally feel like TV series are beginning to reflect the society I grew up in, and that’s one where teenagers have sex without some sort of big blow out.
I’m referring specifically to two fantasy shows on The CW Television Network aimed at teenage audiences: The Vampire Diaries and The Secret Circle. I commend both of these shows for not putting an inordinate amount of significance or dramatic attention on sex. Sometimes the characters on these shows have sex, and it’s no big deal.
The reason this is so significant: Because it finally means that the media is portraying sex among teenagers as a normal and even casual thing. Fireworks don’t go off after your first fuck. It most certainly isn’t going to be some sort of intense, orgasmic experience that blows your mind. That kind of sex comes later, with experience, patience and the right sexual chemistry. I was the first among my close friends to start having sex, so I had no one to tell me what to expect. I assumed that like in film and especially in television, sex would be some kind of dramatic revelation and I would float away to coitus heaven. I was surprised and disappointed when my first time did not meet those expectations. Suddenly “losing my virginity” was revealed to be a melodramatic term loaded with untrue connotations. My expectations caused me to depreciate the value of the actual sex I was having, and it took time for me to adjust.
Eventually I learned the valuable lesson that sex is just sex. It wasn’t going to lead to some sort of Dawson’s Creek-esque teenage apocalypse of drama and ruined friendships. And I certainly wasn’t going to be a Samantha Jones in high school either. Teenagers always have and always will have sex. Many of them with more than one partner before the age of 18. I am grateful to see television shows, especially ones directed at the teenage audience, portray copulation as just another thing that happens during the average teenage life like writing a midterm or skipping class. I’m hoping this will lead to normal, healthier expectations for teenagers thinking about having sex for the first time, and therefore better experiences and relationships.
If you think about it, television has helped bring sexuality out into the open and certain things more culturally acceptable. Sex and the City helped to make female sexuality okay. Queer as Folk and The L Word did the same thing for homosexuality. However I think the most important thing to note here is that fictional worlds are doing a better job of portraying real human relations and intimacy than a great deal of American politicians are.