Let's discuss hook-up culture, alco-pops and the super awkwardness that is teenage sexuality

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Teenage sexuality is super awkward. I mean, seriously, I'm watching this stuff occur around me and it's like many little train crashes all at once. And yeah, okay, everybody's hormones are going haywire and all, but I question how much of this is driven by plain old desire and how much of it is driven by expectation, and the way in which society has changed in the past few decades. Even the past ten years.

Now, my younger sister is a preteen. Viewing the photos of her friends on Facebook* - mainly eleven- and twelve-year-old girls - is a little disconcerting. But the Myspace-esque photos of themselves taken in bathroom mirrors with pouting expression and crop tops and comments like 'You look saa hot, babeh' (then 'I so don't!'), I don't think are overtly sexual. It's more of a mimicry of what older teenagers post on Facebook, and what is considered acceptable and normal. I think there's a real lack of guidance from parents on what's appropriate and not. But the main concern is what they'll then consider acceptable behaviour in five years, when they're my age.

I think that while it might seem as if what are considered acceptable expressions of sexuality (especially in youth and women) might have drastically changed in the past, say, fifty years, the definition is still very narrow, and if you don't conform to what is expected of you, then you're still going to be called a slut, or you're going to be called frigid, or you're going to be called gay, and you're going to feel like a freak.

Let's say when my grandparents were teenagers, it was considered acceptable to marry in perhaps your late teens or early twenties, have one sexual partner your entire life and you had sex to have babies for your country! to carry on your legacy! And if you were gay you just had to pretend you weren't, and if you didn't get married you were obviously freakish and didn't get to hook up with anybody at all, and if you had a kid outside of marriage that kid got called a bastard all their life. If you were an unmarried woman, you were not going to have sex, and if you were a married woman, you were not to enjoy sex at all.

There are obvious ways in which things have improved, and it would be a lie to say that people (especially women) today do not have significantly more sexual freedom than they had a handful of decades ago (the freedom to be a sole parent, or have a child in a de facto relationship, or have a relationship with someone of the same gender). But what is considered acceptable and normal sexual behaviour seems to have swung way in the other direction.

Now, the sexual expectations for kids (especially girls) of my generation (in a predominantly white, middle-class Australian outer-suburb), are that there's something wrong with you if you don't hook up. (Primarily when drunk, at parties and in parks and gardens. I don't go to these kind of parties, nor do I drink, or hang out in parks at night, so there go my hopes of being an normal teenager!) There's a certain expectation that no one's going to get married for another fifteen years, and everyone's going to uni purely for the uni partying experience rather than education, and I'm not suggesting everybody feels this way, but there's a dominant culture of weird hedonism that doesn't really please anybody. It's just doing things - whether that's drugs or sex or whatever - because this is what you're supposed to do at this point in your life. Who says?

I have pretty diverse friends. I'm friends with more individuals than groups of people, half of my friends are not my own age, and I don't really experience peer pressure that much at all. This makes it easier to be objective about situations, and be able to see when something is absolutely ridiculous. But for kids my age, whose school life is a big part of their world, who have one big group of friends of the same age, it's easy to get sucked up into the idea that you must conform. You must go to that party and get wasted and hook up with somebody. People think it's normal and okay. Relationships - especially those lasting more than about two months - are pretty uncommon among the teenagers I know. Hooking up is not.

I remember a conversation last year with a group of kids, and a girl saying that she didn't really like sex, but she had sex anyway. I don't think she said why. If you don't enjoy something, but you do it anyway, then you're probably doing it because of other people's expectation. Because it's what's all over TV and movies and magazines and it's what your friends talk about and it's what the university crowd do and you'll be grown up. And there's this attitude that if you hook up or have sex then it's something that you continue doing. Not because you want to, but because you've already done. This is weird, guys! Why does no-one see how weird this is?

I'm not suggesting that 'hooking up' or casual sex are necessarily bad between consenting, self-respecting adults. But I think they shouldn't be considered the norm. But I think this weird, animalistic, Cruiser** driven pashing and dashing*** is a very narrow expression of teenage sexuality, and I doubt it's an experience that would be so desperately pursued by teenagers if there wasn't such an expectation placed on them to do so. I don't even think anyone enjoys it half the
time. It's just something you do.

If someone chooses not to casually hook up with someone, they shouldn't be labelled frigid. If someone wants to hook up with multiple people, they shouldn't be labelled a slut. But I think people should question their motivations when they do hook up. Is this something you do because you genuinely want to? Or is this something you do because this is what's expected, what everybody else does? Just because it's considered normal doesn't necessarily mean it's for you.

I think young people should be given some degree of freedom and a lot of guidance when it comes to figuring out who they are, and your sexual identity is a part of that. But sexuality is an individual thing. It's not one-size-fits-all. Hardly anyone actually fits the heteronormative, pornified mould that's set out by magazines and TV, let alone when they're sixteen years old.

*I'm not really much of a Facebook fan, though. For a start, it goes against basically everything you were taught about internet safety (Remember when it was all 'don't tell anyone where you go to school! don't tell anyone your surname! don't post your phone number!' And now, kids serve it up in a neat little parcel for kidnappers everywhere to enjoy!).
**Alcoholic lolly water, drink of choice of fourteen-year-old girls.
***I've never actually heard 'hooking up' referred to as 'pashing and dashing', but it's defitely a great phrase. Use it at every opportunity.
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