So, what sexual offerings pricked our ears and got us angry this summer? Well, that might seem a bit harsh in the case of the at times surprisingly sweet Love Island, a show perhaps most notable for revitalising young people’s long-presumed-dead interest in reality TV. In fact, ITV 2’s romantic summer show proved so popular that the channel has already created a jungle version for later in the year. Young people became infatuated with the burgeoning new romances, and while the format is too complicated to explain here, one couple are eventually crowned winners after almost two months on the titular ‘island’.
Elsewhere, in proof that retail institutions can become victims of nominative determinism, teenage fashion store Missguided in Kent’s Bluewater shopping centre came under pressure (primarily from this parish’s Rachel Gardner) to take down a sign saying: “Send me nudes X”. As if teenage girls weren’t under enough pressure, the places they shop are now affirming the sexual coercion they come across and are promoting illegal activity. Quite the marketing campaign.
So, with classes starting all over the country, it’s time for one of our own: what have we learnt from this summer of bad sex ed?
Young people still pull for romance
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about Love Island is how sweet it is. Over the course of the show, the contestants are not only honest, but stripped bare (perhaps too literally at times). In fact, vulnerability and openness are perhaps even virtues. We see the mess of relationships played out in front of us, and even when the going got tough, it’s those relationships that the (young) audience got behind. In the age of Tinder, when partners are picked up and then discarded in no time at all, young people are still infatuated by romance, and that has to be a good thing, right?
Relationships are still the be-all and end-all
The flip side of this is that society still puts romantic relationships on a ludicrously high pedestal. In order to remain in Love Island, you have to be coupled up. On the show, finding a partner is the be-all and end-all, which isn’t ideal for teenagers to be hearing. For many young people, the awkward teenage years are already an isolating experience, but when the prevailing narrative is that they need a boyfriend or girlfriend to validate them, this can only make things worse. Granted, a show in which people hang out, get along fine and have no real drama wouldn’t make particularly compelling viewing.
Society’s sexual norms are all kind of warped
It’s hard to know where to start with the “Send me nudes” sign. Not only does it seem to imply that naked photos are something young people should freely share, but it also affirms the pressure put on young women in particular to share these. While it was no doubt meant as a tongue-in-cheek reference to a common request, the sign propagates the dangerous side of modern communication.
As Rachel Gardner’s petition to remove the sign says: “Teenage girls feel under increasing pressure to create and send nude pictures of themselves. An NSPCC report says teenage girls are most adversely affected by the sexting culture. Once online, these nude images can be seen and used by anyone, making girls and vulnerable young women the victims of bullying, revenge porn and exploitation. Many of these nude images can even make their way to child abuse websites. It is illegal in the UK for nude images of under-18s to be created, sent and shared. ‘Send me nudes’ legitimises the culture of sexual coercion that teenage girls and young women experience daily. In posting ‘Send me nudes’ in their store, Missguided are promoting a negative and damaging culture. Instead, they should be empowering young women to value their intrinsic value and express their uniqueness through the art of fashion.”
Incidentally, the petition was successful and Misguided removed the sign.
If we don’t provide young people with sex ed, culture will
While we may want to protect children and young people from our over-sexualised world, the reality is that there’s no avoiding it. The moment you step onto the street or open a tab on your browser, the world is bombarding you with its own sexual ethics, which fall way short and do far more damage than those we would want to affirm among our children and young people. If it’s not telling young people that their value comes from relationships, it’s encouraging them to “send nudes”. And while we can react to these, we need to become proactive, setting the agenda when it comes to sexual ethics, and showing them that another, more profound and beautiful approach to sex and relationships is possible.