Why are high schoolers so sexualized throughout media?

Why is sex such a pivotal part of high school in media?

Sketch of a stereotypical school girl (Loren Chavez/Lariat)

No matter where you turn, it seems like no one can escape the over-sexualized high school experience that appears in almost every teenage movie and TV show. Although sex may have been part of some people’s experience, most would not say that it defined their high school career as entertainment tends to insinuate. Is entertainment making a statement about how much teenagers have sex during these four years, or do teenagers take in the message that sex is a crucial part of high school, and that’s why it seems so prevalent?

Coming up with a list of this kind of entertainment is no difficult task. “Glee,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Riverdale,” “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and “American Pie,” use sex a primary theme, plot device, or staple throughout.

According to a 2015 study conducted by the CDC, “Most adolescents initiate sexual activity during high school. The percentage of students who had ever had sexual intercourse did not change significantly during 1995–2005 (53.1% to 46.8%).”

From this study, it is clear that sex is prevalent, with a little less than half engaging in sexual intercourse. However, entertainment continuously pushes the idea that sex is an inherent part of high school and that you are a loser or a prude if you don’t do it. This image is not only false but potentially harmful, considering how some may feel pressured to have sex in high school to fit in with a mistaken idea portrayed in entertainment.

Teens are going to have sex, no matter if it is in the media or not. However, media has leaned on this plot device as a crutch for ages with seemingly less and less accuracy, turning teenage characters far more mentally and sexually mature even though the reality lies in a far more exploratory and at times, awkward experience. Additionally, creating unhealthy depictions of relationships and potentially promoting the idea that what they display is instead considered healthy.

A study done by the Parents Television Council  titled Tinseltown’s New Target: A Study of Teen Female Sexualization on Primetime TV found that “Based upon a definition established by the American Psychological Association of ‘healthy’ vs. ‘unhealthy’ sexuality, the study findings show that 93% of the sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred within a context that qualified as ‘unhealthy.’”

Most people are still trying to find who they are, where they fit in, and about their sexuality during high school; add studying, extra-curricular activities, sports, and if they can even drive or not and the intricate puzzle of high school is set right before you. While TV shows and movies that take place in high school focus on sex as a primary goal of high school, the reality is that most are still figuring out what it means to be themselves.