Sex positivity is growing in our society, which is a wonderful thing. For too long, the idea that sex is inherently bad caused negative repercussions for many people, especially women and queer people. Now, sex on television is very normal to see. This can be good, as it can normalize healthy sexual relationships onscreen. However, there’s a strange trend in television and movies to have actors who play minors engage in very sexual storylines. This is a strange phenomenon, and it can do a lot of harm.
Some of the popular shows on the air that are known for sexualizing teens are Riverdale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Euphoria. On one hand, these shows normalize sexual feelings in teens, which is a good thing. Many teenagers are going through hormonal changes and experiencing sexual attraction. It’s very natural for teens to have sexual feelings, and that should not be ignored. For a long time, people experienced shame for having these natural urges, which is absolutely not okay.
However, hypersexualizing teen characters can be bad. We see this in Riverdale where sixteen-year-olds pole dance in front of crowds of adults. Where the 15-year-old main character has a relationship with a 30-year-old woman and the implications of that aren’t discussed. It’s shown as a forbidden love/lust situation, rather than Archie being groomed by a pedophile.
It’s realistic for teenagers to have sex, but to pole dance half nude in front of adults? Not so much. These shows often put their teenage characters in wildly inappropriate situations, but rarely discuss the implications. It’s weird that these writers seem to want to put these characters in situations where they act sexy since they’re supposed to be minors. It’s fine to depict that these characters are in sexual relationships, as many teens are, but putting them in oversexual situations that no teenager should ever actually be in, is a little strange.
There’s already a big issue with people sexualizing teens, specifically teen girls. People will think it’s okay to catcall and sexualize girls just because they’ve hit puberty, but it’s not OK. Just because people start having sexual feelings or even sex in their teens doesn’t mean we can just write teen girl characters to be strippers.
The writers of these shows are adults. Why do they want to see teenagers as these mature sexual beings? Having characters dress in sexy outfits, in short skirts and low cut tops, it’s frankly weird.
The impact of these shows on teenagers is something that should be talked about too. I remember feeling weird watching shows where the characters all seemed to be partaking in these really advanced sexual activities, regularly too. It made me feel like I was behind. While I was happy to see validation that teenagers were indeed sexual beings, I didn’t like how sexualized the teenagers were.
These shows set unrealistic sexual standards for teens. Teens may think they have to have sex all the time to be normal when in reality, most high school teens probably don’t even have enough time to have sex all the time. Teens shouldn’t have to feel like they have to be having sex. They should wait until they’re ready, and unfortunately, a lot of these shows don’t portray that aspect of waiting till one is ready.
There are some good realistic examples of teens and sex in media. The Netflix show Sex Education is one of them. It’s been applauded for its realistic approach to teenagers navigating sex. It doesn’t push purity ideas but it also doesn’t over sexualize the characters. It depicts adolescence in a way that many teenagers and people who used to be teenagers relate to.
That isn’t to say that every TV show has to be absolutely realistic when it comes to these matters but think about the message a show is sending when all of its characters are engaging in intense sexual acts fairly regularly. Think about the message that sends when all those characters are minors and high schoolers.
We need to normalize sexual feelings among teens, but we shouldn’t sexualize them. Teens deserve to feel validated for their natural urges, while also not feeling pressured to put themselves in unrealistic sexual situations. Teens are sexual, but they are still children, and they should be allowed to feel that way for as long as they want.
Graphic by Autumn Rendall