In 2010 teenagers were spending roughly 7 hours a day on some sort of media (both social and traditional media). Whether that be your phone checking out Insta, scrolling through your Facebook feed, watching TV (don’t lie, I know you’re watching “Married at First Sight”), listening to your iPod or reading the paper. If we’re being honest in 7 years that number has increased, we always have our phones with us, and even when we are studying or working Facebook is only one tab away.
About 75% of shows and other media contain sexual content – sex is used to sell everything from chocolate to rental cars. Even though sex is everywhere only 6% of TV shows have healthy messages about sex (like consent!). So what does that mean for how we view sex and ourselves? Media and advertising rely on us tapping into stereotypes about sex and gender that tell us how we should look and act. If we don’t fit that mould we can be made to feel bad or like there’s something wrong with us.
BUT WAIT! There are ways to figure out if what you’re seeing is real, and how to decide if you should listen to it. If you’re stuck, ask yourself these questions.
- Is the person acting in the show/ad being paid?
If the answer is yes, they’re taking an angle. It’s not a coincidence that a young flawless looking model in white underwear is selling you a face wash. Advertisers and TV shows decide who to target with their product and then do everything they can to appeal to you and make you buy their product. They will often use stereotypical ideas of what’s ‘sexy’ promote their products, but that doesn’t mean what you see is real.
The same is true for porn. What you watch may look fun and dramatic, but it’s important to realise that porn is a multi-billion-dollar industry. The people you see are professional actors, it’s their job to sell you a product. Sex in real life may not always be as passionate and dramatic, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.
- Do they put you in a box?
Do they tell you that because of how you look or who you are that you should behave in a certain way? For example, lots of movies or TV shows encourage teens to “pop your cherry” (meaning have intercourse for the first time). The problem is, what if you don’t want to have intercourse? Or if you and your partner/s don’t have a penis or vagina? Does that mean unless you and your partner have male and female genitals that you can’t have ‘sex’? Does oral and anal sex still count as sex then? Ah… so many questions, popular media often doesn’t cover the diverse ways people can enjoy sex. Really there is no set way that you should be behaving, as long as everything is safe and consensual it should be up to those involved to decide what and how they have sex.
- Do they tell you that you NEED to buy something?
We’ve all been in that awkward situation, you’re in the car with your parents and one of those erectile dysfunction ads comes on, and you just pretend like you can’t hear anything, avoid eye contact and hope by some chance they can’t hear it. Other than just being awkward these ads can also give people unrealistic expectations about sex. These ads also use language like “keep her happy” or “fix your relationship” which makes you that whether or not you enjoy or even have sex depends on a guy having an erection. Which again, is 100% dependent of the people involved.
There are a lot more questions you could ask to figure out how media can shape what you think of sex and sexuality, but this is a good start. You can still enjoy watching your favourite shows and youtubers, the main point is be critical of what you see.