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Sunday Reflections: If Sex Sells, part II – the curious case of the movies

You know you read all the good parts

A couple of Sundays ago, I wrote a piece called Sex Sells . . . But What are We Selling?  Here, I talked about my concerns about 1) are women really in control or are men still controlling the message and women being fooled into thinking they are empowered when they use sex to sell their brand and 2) how these messages effect self-esteem.  Christie then wrote about the same subject from the viewpoint of guys, who are definitely also being bombarded by these same types of messages.  But then a curious thing happened: I stumbled across this article on Entertainment Weekly: Hollywood sex? Does it still sell?

Apparently, there is a real lack of sex in the movies we are watching, although I really hadn’t realized it.  In part, I think, because although there may be less sex in the movies, there is definitely more sex on TV, whether or not it be suggested at in your TV commercials (yes, I’m still complaining about the Carls Jr. ads) or on your premium cable channels (and yes, I’m talking to you Game of Thrones and Girls).  And what are we to blame for this lack of sex in our movies? The Internet and teenage boys apparently. We all know that the Internet has made it really easy to get access to pornography, so there is less motivation for us to shell out $14.00 to go see it in the theater while surrounded by others.  Apparently now we want big explosions, the bigger the better.  As someone with a love for disaster movies, I am all for this.  Yes, I did actually pay to see 2012 in the movie theaters.  And I will stop and watch every. single. disaster movie on SyFy.

As for teenage boys, well, that part didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  But I do see how making a movie rated R is already limiting your audience, thus limiting your incomes so going for a PG-13 makes sense from a financial point of view.  Hopefully, it makes sense from an artistic point of view.  

Speaking of premium TV channels, the HBO series Girls may have taken the onscreen sex a little too far if you pay any attention to popular culture news.  On last Sunday’s episode, there was an encounter that may or may not be construed as rape, a topic that I care a lot about in the media and our culture as well.  I can’t actually comment on the episode because when I tried to watch a rerun of the episode to decide for myself, I had to change the channel.  Slate ran a play by play of the scene (very disturbing and descriptive, be forewarned) and then Salon had an article discussing the idea of consent asking the question, “Can rape be stopped?“.  For a while, it seemed like sexual assault was a disturbing trend in the ya titles I was reading, and it is definitely a huge cultural discussion happening right now.  Whether it be discussing the military, rape culture, or teenage boys in Ohio, it is clear that the time is right now to be discussing how we can change our culture and help keep women safe.

As a teen service’s librarian, I have to wrestle with the ambiguities of sex in the lives of teenagers every day.  Because biology is cruel, hormones start kicking in at the beginning of the teenager years (although approximately 25% of teenage girls may see them kicking in as young as 9), and yet adults, understandably, want teens to be sheltered.  Which brings us to the all important question: should there be sex in ya literature?  And the uncomfortable answer is, yes, sometimes.  Because a portion of our teens are having sex, we need to be honest about it in the literature.  I don’t think it needs to be graphic, but if we are going to write honest stories about the lives of teens then they sometimes have to have sex.

Sex is a tricky business when it comes to art.  It is part of the human experience, but it is generally considered private and often taboo.  But since art is supposed to reflect life, and make us think about it, it is hard to avoid the topic.  Even for teenagers.  Especially for teenagers sometimes.

And here’s my huge confession.  Do you know what I was doing in the 6th grade?  Why, I was reading Forever by Judy Blume.  Not all of it actually, just the pages that my friend had marked and told me to read.  And Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews.  I did actually read all of that one and ewwwwwww.  My point? It’s not actually a new phenomenon.  And for the record, I totally remember watching Risky Business, the movie that they mention in our original Entertainment Weekly article.  Which leaves me thinking, it appears that the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High wouldn’t even get made today, which is too bad because that movie actually made me think about things in meaningful ways and examine lives that were very different than mine.  And that is the point of storytelling, no matter what form it takes.