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How we learn about sex through media and education

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Sexually Active Conversation
Manhattan Jewish Experience

In the 21st Century being a naive person is something that allows for that person to be exploited in the worst possible way.

During my freshman year, my roommate and I started talking about sex. He wanted to know what the procedure would be for getting some, with consent of course. He got the top bunk in our dorm and it's difficult to get busy if your head can hit the ceiling.

I told him this, “Just don't tell me what you do or where you do it. Just make sure I don't find a stain that looks like clam chowder on my sheets”. That stopped the conversation cold as the night air and we moved on to another topic. Whether it's “beating off”, “getting some strange”, or whatever you’re into you are taught that condoms are the essential part of it, but that's it.

The rest of life we spend getting more information about sex. Which brings me to a point that may be the weakness of human kind. When it comes to the birds and the bees, why aren’t we given the entire story?

The social institutions of media and education shape the social construction of sexuality through the way that these institutions create the idea of what is considered desirable and proper sex. One way in which media has created the idea of what is desirable is through Cosmopolitan magazine. This magazine originally started out championing women to explore their sexuality.

However, it was more or less telling women what would make them desirable to the opposite sex. In the book, Popular Culture as Everyday Life, the chapter "Having Sex" brings up this magazine. Though, it is really being shown in a negative light because instead of focusing on women's sexual pleasures, and desires; it really teaches how and what women can do to please men.

Many of the women interviewed in this chapter describe this as “The Cosmo Effect” and show how they are unsatisfied with themselves just by breezing through the pages of this magazine.

Another aspect of media that influences the social construction of sexuality is pornography. Through pornography the sexual script has changed because of the ay that the use of pornography has changed. Before the Internet, pornography was used to have an orgasm not to stimulate pleasure.

However, with the easy access to pornography through the Internet it is used as a stimulant for sex. Some youth learn about sex through pornography and it gives them a false ideal of what is sexually desirable.

Through the relationships of characters on television sitcoms through time, sexuality and the idea of sexual expression has been captured, as has the change in what is becoming socially acceptable.

The sitcom, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, is about the life and times of the Nelson Family. The relationship between Ozzie and his wife, Harriett mirrors sexuality at the time in that people were heterosexual, married and sex as an act was used purely for reproduction.

One chapter in the book Deviations, by Gayle S. Rubin, talks about how from the 1940s to the 1960s there was a sexual caste system. On the top of the caste system were people that were considered part of that Ozzie and Harriett lifestyle. After that comes much of what is considered normal to sexuality now.

Next in the sexual caste system was, “Unmarried heterosexual couples, promiscuous heterosexuals, people that masturbate, long-term stable lesbian and gay male couples, lesbians at the bar, and promiscuous gay men in the baths or in the park.” The last groups of people on the list are, “transvestites, transsexuals, fetishists, sadomasochists, people that have sex for money, and cross-generational.” Many of the pieces of sexuality were demonized than. People date without the prospect of marriage, people are open about their fetishes and other sexual deviations from the norm at that time are currently viewed as part of the norm.

Soon came The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which actually prided single woman to date as well as to have casual sex. A show that is unable to be a contender for this is That Girl starring Marlo Thomas. That Girl was more focused on the idea of the working girl looking for marriage as her final destination, instead of the idea of being single.

However, the show’s main character was in a committed relationship throughout the entire series, but lead star, Marlo Thomas, “did not want to send a message to young women that marriage was the ultimate goal for them, and she worried that it would have undercut the somewhat feminist message of the show.”

One notable moment in sitcom as well as television history was the first ever primetime gay kiss which came to us courtesy of ABC’s show, Roseanne. The sixth season episode, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell showed Roseanne getting a passionate kiss from her friend Nancy’s girlfriend. Though this was major moment for the LGBTQ community it was done for the wrong reason.

This episode was during a time when the show’s ratings were under evaluation; something that would have determined whether or not Roseanne would get renewed for a seventh season. As history goes the show went on to have nine seasons and that kiss is remembered in history.

Now we live in the era of Will & Grace, a sitcom that aired on NBC during the late 1990s to the early 2000s. This show was well known for how the LGBTQ community was on the rise in the word. This show was also able to stop stereotyping the idea of being gay. By this I mean that it was able to deviate from the stereotypical portrayal of gay men.

One of the lead characters, Will Truman, was a gay man that as flamboyant as the other male lead, played by Sean Hayes, Jack McFarland. The character of Will did manage to show that he was gay from time by expressing many stereotypical gay traits such as loving Lisa Minnelli, breaking into song and dance at random, and speaking in a higher tone of voice.

Another notable example of a sitcom breaking away from the stereotypical portrayal of gay men is Carter Haywood, played by Michael Boatman, on the ABC sitcom, Spin City. He was hired by in the pilot episode of the series as a part of damage control on Mike’s behalf; at times, it is often difficult to remember that Carter is gay.

The last sitcom to demonstrate the evolution of sexuality comes from 2 Broke Girls. While this show is known for the saucy attitude of the character Max and the comments it makes about certain communities; nothing compares to the episode where the girls manage to offend the gay community. In this episode Max and Caroline are filling a large order for a person named “I”.

When “I” finally arrives to pick up the order it is revealed that this person is gender fluid but wants to alter the cupcakes in a way that offends Max. Max then says, “We cannot sell cupcakes to you”, leading to a large protest being held outside of the cupcake shop.

Even though the appearance of a gender fluid person is much different from the appearance of gender fluid people.

In reality gender fluid people dress how they feel only their clothing blurs the gender line so someone isn’t able to immediately able to assume their gender. Though sitcoms often portray relationships not working out or failing in some insane manner they also manage to capture the realism of what is considered sexually normal.

Sitcoms have also managed to capture the changes in sexuality and have expressed that sexuality has become more freeing. People are able to be “sexual deviants” and aren’t viewed as if something is inherently wrong with them.

Education manages to shape sexuality through what specifically people are taught about sex. In Sinikka Elliot and Josephine Ngo McKelvy’s chapter of Selves, Symbols and Sexualities, Talking Sex, they describe the “danger discourse of teen sexuality” that occurs when schools teach students about sex.

They write, "A female student volunteers how the scare tactics have left a lasting mark, scarring her for life: I am scarred I am scarred for life," she says". Parents and sex educators also seem to agree that an effective way to scare you so way from sex is to scare them away from intimate relationships with their peers.

One example from the chapter is when a teacher her students what they must assume when having sex. The students replied that the woman is pregnant and that they have an STD, (sexually transmitted disease). In doing this the students demonstrate how the institution of education is denying them real knowledge of sexuality.

The way that students are being taught demonstrates that society values one type of sexual relationships over another. The relationships that society values the are married, heterosexual couples that only view sex as a means of reproduction; instead of something that can be enjoyed and pleasurable.

In one chapter, authored by Susie Scott, Matt Dawson and Staci Newmahr, they show how asexuality is something that doesn’t need gender but allows people to blur the lines of their own sexual orientation. For instance, one man mentioned that he sleeps with straight women, but dates an asexual man because it is strictly an emotional relationship.

Something to keep in mind in your everyday life is that gender is an institution that has also been created by society to help maintain the way sexuality is socially constructed.

Finally, comes Brandy L. Simula’s chapter of the book, in which, she describes how gender is becoming an unimportant factor in sexuality. She measured sexual orientation on a continuum, which allows for the line to be further blurred based on the way that people express themselves.

Both media and education manage to show how sexuality is socially constructed in the way that they define what is considered "sexual normalcy". Seeing as how the ideas of sexuality and gender are evolving these social institutions manage to disillusion the boundary lines of gender. What was once considered sexually deviant is now considered normal, and is slowly being accepted into society.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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