Let’s Talk About Sex: Body Positivity

While you were promised sex talk, let’s take it slow diving into the wild world of adolescence and growing up. Though often overlooked, Body Positivity and learning to appreciate the body that you are growing into is a large part of becoming a young adult. There’s no doubt that as a teenager you’re bombarded with so many different messages about what you should look like, what’s natural, or what your standards your body should conform to.

The phrase “body positivity” can be rather misleading—some interpret the idea as self care and taking care of your body, striving to live as healthy and fit as possible. Others view body positivity as an effort to accept and love your body for what it its, not feel the need to change it to make others happy.

Living in the “liberal bubble” of the San Francisco Bay Area, you can definitely come across a lot of free lovin’ propaganda spreading messages of “Self Love,” but even in this atmosphere, it is apparent that many teenagers, specifically girls, are told contrasting ideas of what body positivity is. While interviewing A, a local female high school student, she told me, “It’s different for everyone and it’s important to stress that body positivity manifests itself in so many different ways because some people say ‘show off your body,’ while some people would rather cover it up.”

Currently, more and more young feminists are embracing the ideas of being able to show off and embrace their bodies, not being confined to conservative views of what’s acceptable. And while many young women welcome these expectations to show themselves off, some just generally have a personal preference to remain more “Conservative” or covered up.

While interviewing E, a mother of an 18-year-old boy as well as a 16 and 11-year-old girl, she said that body positivity should be, “Congruent between who you are and this shell that you’re in, so that you know who you are in your body as well as out of your body.”

“They are praying on insecurities to redefine their standards.”

This is important to point out because so many teenagers take extreme efforts to change what they look like in an attempt to try to coincide with some idea of themselves as opposed to who they actually are.

As a member of society, everyday you’re bombarded with wild marketing trying to coax you into buying this or trying that, and endless ads pushing products in your face. Teenagers have been a key group to market to for ages, shoving cliche beauty standards to the foreground of teen preferences. “They are praying on insecurities to redefine their standards,” said E, “and in that way I think it’s more insidious than just trying to get you to buy something.”

Meanwhile, when I asked V, a local gay high school student of his opinion of beauty standards, he held a contrasting viewpoint that, “Today’s standards are definitely changing with a high concentration of multiculturalism and diversity in which different cultures with different ideas of beauty are starting to collide and mix,” he explained. It had never occurred to me, even living in this big mixing pot of the San Francisco Bay Area that beauty standards are changing, even if only slowly and in small ways.

While growing up there are many different things that could end up shaping your views of the body, whether it be your friends, the media, or your family, but one thing that’s often swept under the carpet is porn. To be frank, it’s out there and it’s easy to get. While interviewing teenagers specifically, I was rather interested in the circumstances of which they first watched porn. Many came back with answer similar to, “I was with friends and they asked ‘Hey do you guys wanna watch porn?’ and I said ‘What’s porn?’,” explained V, “So then they showed it to me and said it’s when two people have sex and it’s recorded and people can jack off to it and I honestly didn’t really know what that meant.” Most people stumble into it out of pure curiosity, and more than two people I interviewed said they had first watched it with friends.

While porn can be intriguing, exciting, and thrilling, I’ve always had reservations over how it can impact one’s view of themselves, let alone sex. I was pleasantly surprised to hear how porn positively impacted a teenage girl. When I asked A, “In relation to beauty standards, do you see porn impacting teen views of beauty standards?” she responded, “No, I don’t think so. The thing about porn is that not a lot of girls in porn are all beautiful. Not trying to be mean, but I mean sex is an inherently ugly act—[at least] a little bit—so it’s not like the girls are conventionally the most beautiful, so I think if anything it has had a positive impact.”

Similarly while addressing porn with C, a sex ed teacher and parent of a young boy, he agreed that, “One thing that has happened with porn being so available is that there is a wide variety of types of bodies and types of sexual interest being available for people to see. I think there is less variation in mainstream film, in terms of who gets to be in movies and who gets to be the star and be on posters and be on ads. I think there is less variety there then there is on porn.” While porn stereotypically features a thin, busty blonde woman overacting for a camera, it was interesting to think of the contrast between the diversity in porn and common media. It’s definitely true that while porn has evolved to show people with a range of different body types, common media has not. If you go to see the movies today almost all the women featured are white, thin, and under the age of 27.

Just in the same way the movie Fast and Furious would be very entertaining, it’s not a good place to learn how to drive.

Now it may sound like I’m waving the flag for porn but not quite the case. Though I was happy to find that porn was having a positive impact on my peers, I came to wonder if there is a way in which porn can be educational. While discussing this with C and E (both parents), the first thing that came up was the fact the porn is in fact made as a form of entertainment. “It’s filmed with the eyes of the viewers in mind to the performers,” said C. “Pleasure is not the focus, but the pleasure of the viewer so they perform in a way they wouldn’t naturally. Just in the same way the movie Fast and Furious would be very entertaining, it’s not a good place to learn how to drive.”

I love that metaphor because it’s true that teenagers who are considering becoming sexually active with someone will often watch porn and take away incorrect lessons, such as “make over dramatic sounds ” or “ Use revolting names for your partner.”

While speaking to parents, they brought up the impact of porn that includes footage of the consent process. “The importance of widening the focus a little bit to show the consent process and taking care of each other and showing they are okay [is impactful],” said E. “Porn is nowadays short clips or images from movies—no preamble, just sex—and in real life there is a lot that goes into sex beforehand,” C added. “People talk about where they want to go and not want to go, or people start having sex and someone has a leg cramp or has to pee and they stop, so porn is not an entirely real picture of what sex is in real life.” While there is so much porn out there of all different types, as a young person embarks on trying to learn what sex is, it’s important to remember how much of the process is not on camera.

So while porn may not be the easiest topic to tackle, it appears to be becoming more of a platform for diversity and accepting people of different body types. However, teenagers need to keep in mind that it is still scripted entertainment, and it is not entirely natural. Growing up in today’s society, teenagers are bombarded with messages of what your body should look like.While those messages can be convincing, I hope teenagers can remember to accept and love what they are already.