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The Overwhelming Ideals of Love and Sex in Teen Media

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

By Ashly McNally

Image via 10 Things I Hate About You.

What was the last movie or show you watched?

Grease, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Notebook, The Fault in Our Stars, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Glee, The Vampire Diaries, On My Block, and more: all of these modern works include teenage relationships as a main or subplot. While we all enjoy these with some popcorn on our couch or in our bed, the overabundant portrayal of teens’ relationships in the media has a darker side to it.

Any show popular among teens now probably has some element of sex and love. Even shows about teenagers going on adventures—Stranger Things, Warrior Nun, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina—have subplots about teenagers hooking up and dating each other. The algorithmic, designed-for-you content we consume today via platforms like Hulu and Netflix only feed us what we interact with, so this content is all many of us are going to see and consume.

Image via Netflix

The feverish amount of this content available can have dangerous consequences. Not only does it promote the sexualization of teenagers, but it also puts an unhealthy image in the viewer’s mind about how much teens are actually involved in dating and hookup culture.

Here’s the problem: the media we consume creates our reality. In this digital age, we consume and then discuss what we consume. It’s an endless cycle, especially now that we’re all at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have limited contact with each other and turn to TV shows and movies for entertainment. During the lockdown, 62% of Gen Z (ages 8-23) have been consuming online TV/streaming content as well as broadcast television. The constant, unhealthy consumption of this media causes teens to feel guilty because they’re missing out on what everyone else is doing.

It’s not just the media, but the society we live in. There’s this idea, put in place by older generations that we go to school, marry our soulmate (who we magically found before 21), have a few kids, and fade off into oblivion. It’ll start with your aunt or grandma who teases and asks, “So do you have your eye on anyone special?” Then there’s always this unspoken pressure at social event to find someone to dance or hook up with. Or, if you're single and not hooking up with someone, your friends take on a pitying tone like it’s a bad thing.

Image via Netflix

Don’t get me wrong: love is a great thing, and being confident in your sexuality is too. But the pressure to find it when we’re still learning who we are and what place we have in this world is overwhelming at times. Teenagers need time without pressure to figure out who they are. If all we’re doing is moving in and out of relationships, are we looking for the one or just looking for our true selves in other people?

As social beings, it’s important to form intimate connections but they shouldn’t be advertised by the media and our parents as only available romantically. We should be focusing on ourselves and what makes us happy whether that includes being in a romantic relationship or not. Essentially: you do you, boo.

Written by writer Ashly McNally

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