Let’s talk about sex

By Katie Hobday

Last summer, I was groped by a young boy.

The 42 degree Celsius day made New Delhi one of the hottest places on the planet last July. My hair was damp from sweat and my pounding headache made worse from the heavy cloth covering my head and trousers to my ankles. Dressed very modestly out of respect, I went into a Hindu temple to escape the heat, where I was approached by a group of young boys. Egged by his friends, one of the braver boys grabbed me. I was a little shocked, but also very curious to find out what provoked this.

Inquiring at my hotel later on, the receptionist said that this is a very regular occurrence for tourists. He explained this was because, most of the time, the only perceptions young people have about western women are formed by the promiscuous stereotypes on television and in movies.

It is very clear that people have different opinions when it comes to sex, not only internationally, but within our own culture as well. I know this statement is general, but it’s something people don’t take into consideration often. Society’s perceptions of sex are almost wholly shaped through television and movies. Think about the last time you heard the word ‘sex.’ More often than not, it was during a television show, in a Ke$ha song, or some other form of media. This is the reason why, especially as university students, like the Salt ‘n’ Pepa song says, we need to talk about sex.

Whether you have sex or not, it should be openly discussed. People hardly coil when the word ‘intercourse’ is brought up in a conversation, but it is a dogmatic topic among youth today. Some popular television shows legitimize images of sex that we don’t often see in the real world. In an article in Parenting Teens, psychologist Rebecca Collins was quoted saying, “The impact of television viewing is so large that even a moderate shift in sexual content of adolescent TV watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behaviour.”

Studies show that two-thirds of television shows have some element of sexual content in it, and this largely determines individual attitudes towards sex. A Research and Development Corporation (RAND) study showed that adolescents who watch TV with sexual content are twice as likely to engage in a sexual activity the next year than adolescents who don’t.

People often perceive the acts seen on TV to be indicative of their own culture. The line between reality and fiction regarding sexuality is often distorted by the media.

explaining orientation

“Bisexual is a term that gay guys in high school use when they want to hold hands with girls and feel normal for a change.”

-Kurt Hummel, Glee

The first use of the term “bi” to refer to sexual orientation was used in the 19th century, along with “hetero” and “homo.” Many terms have been coined in an attempt to encapsulate all variations of the hetero-homo dichotomy which include “homoflexible” and “heteroflexible.” But the truth is, bisexuality has been observed in nature throughout recorded history. It’s not a new concept.

Labels are a drag through. Whatever your sexuality, embrace it.

A 2007 study conducted by the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health shows that LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. It Gets Better, a video project launched in September by author and sex columnist Dan Savage, is just one of many programs launched to create a peer­-based support system. In his Savage Love weekly podcast, he provides an inspirational story about persevering through ridicule because of his sexual orientation. Media can be a very positive outlet for engaging youth in LGBTQ issues. This isn’t always the case, however.

There are many resources around campus that are directed towards creating an accepting environment for youth of all sexual orientations. Outlets like Qmunity, which opened last November on campus, are great places where no matter what, you can be you.

I popped into their cozy little room and talked with two volunteers, Zac Wierzbicki and Maureen Tang, about the hypersexual representation of the LGBTQ community in traditional media.

“It’s an unrealistic image,” said Tang. “It’s normal if like Brad Pitt had sex with a co-star in a movie, but when it’s with two people of the same gender, it’s a huge deal. It’s super hyped like in Black Swan or Brokeback Mountain. It’s the only think people talk about.”

These images proliferate throughout society to display the LGBTQ community in a negative or limited light.

Shows like Will and Grace, Glee and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, to name a few, portray flamboyant homosexuals that are often sex-crazy and reduced to sources of shallow entertainment and humour.

Vito Russo, an LGBTQ activist and writer who died in 1990 and contributed immensely to the gay rights movement in America, summarized the issue well.

“Homosexuality has only rarely been depicted on the screen,” he said. “When it did appear, it was there as something to laugh at or something to pity or even something to fear. These were fleeting images, but they were unforgettable and they left a lasting legacy. Hollywood, that great maker of myths, taught straight people what to think about gay people . . . and gay people what to think about themselves.”

Popping the cherry

Media’s focus on sex spans more than just the LGBTQ community.There are a few different types of drama narrative about virginity loss. In each is a different emphasis on the amount of urgency characters have to lose their virginity. One of them, the abstinence script, emphasizes waiting for sex and is often associated with a religious ideal and negative repercussions for those who don’t abstain.

7th Heaven is an example of the abstinence script. Ruthie, one of the main characters, was taught her whole life to wait until marriage to have sex. When she did not, it ended tearing the family apart with an unwanted pregnancy.

In Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrayal of First Sexual Experiences, psychologist Laura Carpenter said that in order to determine whether a virginity loss narrative has a profound effect on young viewers, one must first determine their original beliefs regarding the subject. Surprisingly, Carpenter found that the sexual beliefs one grows up with have less of a present-day impact than was originally thought.

“Many people remembered being influenced by materials that did not appear to reflect their own views about virginity,” she said in her study.

Regardless of how much these narratives affect views of virginity, they are very prevalent in popular media.

“Whenever sexuality is presented in culture, including a religious community, in a fear or shame basis, it has a huge impact on people and their sexual growth,” said Pam Krause, executive director of Calgary Sexual Health.

“Sex is everywhere in media, and with a negative look at it, people are bombarded with negative emotions which creates a huge amount of dissonance.”

Birth control

“Birth control is a woman’s problem.”

– My ex

Thankfully, we are not dating anymore. Here is some news to anyone who feels the same way: it’s not.

Last year was the 50th anniversary of the legalization of the oral contraceptive in North America, the most popular birth control method for young women. Before the sexual revolution empowered women all around the globe, birth control evolved through some less-than-successful ancient methods. Once upon a time, a sponge would be doused in lemon and inserted vaginally. Cotton was also inserted. Papayas eaten in copious amounts. I don’t suggest trying any of these at home.

Compared to how often we see sex in the media, how much focuses on birth control? Often, the only time birth control is mentioned is when a condom breaks. For example, Rachel Green from Friends and Donna Pinciotti from That ’70s Show both fell victim to birth control failure. Other than this, media does not seem to inform viewers, even implicitly, of birth control options.

“The kind of birth control young women use depends on their body type and physician,” said Nanako Furuyama, programming coordinator of the U of C Women’s Resource Centre.

Other forms of birth control that have recently gained popularity in the youth market are the NuvaRing, male condom and patch. All types have different effectiveness, but an important thing to keep in mind is that condom use is the only way to prevent spread of STIs, which, according to Furuyama, have increasingly spread in Alberta over the past few years.

The popular 2007 film Juno shows an independent teenager who takes a different route after finding out about her pregnancy by giving her child up for adoption. Furuyama said that a lot of women don’t think there are other options than those most represented in the media: abortion or keeping the child.

One of the top inquiries the WRC has are “Plan B” options. There are inclusive options for after a night of unsafe sex or pregnancy, which include the morning after pill, pregnancy tests, abortions, adoption or even schooling options available for mothers.

Performing gender

Philosopher Judith Butler claims that sexuality, sex and gender are all performative acts. That means that we act in a specific way which adheres to social norms. For example, a woman shaving her legs is a performative act, something that constantly needs to be done in order to be considered from the outside as feminine. In this same way, Butler thinks media is the biggest way to inform individuals how they are “supposed” to act according to their sexuality and gender. This, however, is not a positive way to live. Butler says as educated members of society, we need to realize and accept alternatives to media representations.

Krause said that negative portrayals of homosexuality and masturbation can lead individuals to hold an unhealthy view of sex. In order to eradicate our negative views of sexuality, we need to look at how media affects our view of it. An accepting attitude is the best one we can take. In order to prevent incidents like the one that happened to me last summer, we all need to break down some of the stereotypes that everyone faces because of media representation.

A note from the editor-in-chief

Censorship is never taken lightly, especially at the Gauntlet. But after much discussion and debate, the Gauntlet editors, many of who are on the cover, decided against running full-frontal nudity on the Gauntlet cover. This feature tackles the silence around healthy sexuality in media and us covering up the naughty bits may seem like a continuation of this, but we also accept the limitations that every public publication is subject to in respecting their audience. We hope this compromise is acceptable and encourages further discussion.

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