Research from Dartmouth suggests that teens who are “exposed to more sex on screen in popular films are likely to have sexual relations with more people and without using condoms.” Jezebel suggests that instead of parents trying to keep sex out of the Netflix queue, “talking to teens about sex (or, more appropriately, how ridiculous movie sex really is) [would] go a long way toward mitigating the danger that those teens would forgo condoms.”
Obviously obviously obviously (I can’t say this enough) having universal, comprehensive, and truthful sex education is essential for helping young people make informed decisions (as studies from Europe and elsewhere have proven).
However, I’m going to veer into confession territory and explain why I don’t think that sex in the media is inherently a bad thing. When I was growing up, my mom explained that she’d rather we see movies with sex than movies with violence. Her reasoning was that sex is a creative and natural human thing to do, while violence is destructive. Sure, life tends to have both creative and destructive elements to it, and no one’s life is pristine, but if you’ve gotta pick between the two, my mom reasoned that it was less harmful to us if we were watching a foreign film that happened to have a little sex as part of the plot rather than some Hollywood destructo-action-flick.
(My mother was horrified when a friend of hers took her two-year-old son to see Terminator, and the kid couldn’t even pronounce the title of the film, that’s how young he was! “Too-meen-a-ta!”)
So that’s the attitude I grew up with. I don’t recall how early I had sex education in school (definitely had an awkward “Personal Health” class in high school; not sure about before that), but I was such an avid reader I’d educated myself on what sex was before I was 10. I’d much rather see a film with some sexy scenes than watch a movie where everyone dies; I figure there’s enough violence in the world, why would I pay to see it? We’re getting Hollywood’s warped vision of the world when it comes to both sex and violence, but even so, I know which one I’d go for.
The problem is that we’re getting a skewed view of sex, not that we’re viewing sex at all. And the skewing is not being corrected by accessible and empirically-based sex education. That‘s the problem, in my view. We can fix things with education, not with censorship.
Follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor. Follow Jeana, the author of this post, @foxyfolklorist.